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May 9, 2003

For Monty Tech Bulldog, Game is Seen, Not Heard

From: Fitchburg Sentinel, MA - May 9, 2003

By Eric Avidon

WESTMINSTER -- Imagine playing right field. The ball rises off the bat, and it's a high fly in the gap between you and the center fielder. It's routine, you keep your eyes on the ball and race to your right to try to make the catch, only peeling away from the play if the center fielder calls you off.

Now imagine you're deaf. You can't hear whether the center fielder is calling for the ball. You have no idea whether a collision is imminent. You fear the unknown, and suddenly that routine play becomes anything but routine.

At least you'd think so.

Well, Tonya Hood is deaf, and the Petersham native plays right field for the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School softball team. But fear is not a part of her nature, and the idea that she would be fearful of a collision is almost preposterous to her.

With interpreter Dan McGuinness translating the question into sign language, Hood answers "Never" when asked if she's ever been afraid on a fly ball. And she added that no such collision has ever happened.

Despite whatever preconceptions others might have about the fear that could be involved in playing softball without hearing teammates and coaches, Hood does so without any anxiety that her lack of hearing will lead to a collision, or even a simple mental error.

In fact, Hood didn't start playing softball until after she lost her hearing, first playing in fifth grade. She is now a sophomore.

"I usually just watch the ball," she said about playing the outfield. "I watch the person who is in center field, and they tell me like that (with hand motions), so I understand what they are saying and what it means. They don't have to talk for me to understand them. They make gestures."

It's the same when Hood fields the ball and has to get it back to the infield and either keep a runner from advancing to another base or try to throw that runner out as she attempts to take that extra base.

"They do a lot with hand motions," Monty Tech Coach Dave Reid said. "When they are telling her what base to throw to, they hold up fingers."

Nicole Maloughney, who bats cleanup for the Monty Tech Bulldogs, is the team's center fielder and the one who needs to communicate most frequently with Hood on the field.

"I have faith in her," Maloughney said. Hood "knows what to do even though she can't hear what we're saying. She knows exactly what to do, where to throw. She never gives up. ... She's just a great player, and it doesn't matter that she's deaf. ... It's awesome to play with someone who has different ways of playing than us. It's pretty cool."

As in the outfield, instead of listening for instruction when she's running the bases, Hood watches the situation and looks for signals from her coaches.

"I can't hear a coach saying stuff, but I use my eyes, and if I run to third base and my coach goes like that (hands up in front of the chest) I know that means to stop, and if he holds his hands low I know that means to slide," she said. "I use my eyes a lot to know what is going on around me."

According to Reid, Hood "once ran through a stop sign at third base, but I'm not going to fault her aggressiveness."

The only extra step Reid takes regarding Hood, the only thing he wouldn't do if he didn't have a deaf player on the team, is inform both the opposing coaching staff and the umpires of Hood's lack of hearing. And he said that opponents have treated Hood "like any other player."

Hood wasn't born deaf, but when her mother was giving birth to her, the umbilical chord wrapped around her neck three times. That was the genesis of her hearing problems. The hearing completely disappeared from her left ear when Hood was in the fourth grade, and she is hard of hearing in her right ear, though with a hearing aid she can hear to some degree.

Hood is playing her first year on the varsity, and she's had an affect on a team that is 8-3 overall and 6-3 in the Colonial Athletic League. Two of those losses are to Hudson Catholic, which beat Monty Tech, 4-2, in 12 innings Wednesday.

"She was new to the school last year and wanted to get her grades," said Reid. "Overall, the team isn't hitting very well, but she's making contact. And she has a good arm. She's only made one error, and she's very enthusiastic about playing."

Reid added that he has "a device with a microphone so that her interpreter can sign to her in the field. She wants to play shortstop next year, but communication is very important at shortstop. Still, I'll give her a shot."

According to Reid, Hood's greatest asset is her enthusiasm.

"She wants to go out there and do the best job she can. She gives 100 percent effort every time," he said.

But he added that she does need to become a better hitter.

"She needs to work on her hitting, but then again, as a team, we're not hitting well. She just needs to work on making contact."

Hood, meanwhile, said catching is the best part of her game.

Then there is life away from the field, being a deaf person in the classroom and being a deaf person interacting with her teammates and classmates on a social level.

But just as she manages and succeeds on the field, Hood does so off the field.

"I have an interpreter in the classroom," she said. "Ordinarily, if I don't understand what the teacher is saying, I usually ask the interpreters. But I'm supposed to ask my teachers for help, so now I'm starting to understand my ability to ask the teachers for help."

And about interacting with teammates on a social level, she said she feels "part of the team. I use my voice a lot, and I talk a lot, and when I talk to a person and they talk to me, I can read lips very well. But if I don't understand what they're saying, I just ask them to say it again."

Same as anyone else, essentially.

"She's a very likable kid," Reid said. "Her teammates treat her like anyone else. Nobody has a bad word to say about her, and she gets along well."

According to Maloughney, Hood is not only every bit a part of the team, but one of the most vocal players.

"We always include her, and actually she's always the one telling us 'Don't give up. You guys, you can do this,' and she's always trying to take charge."

When high school is done, Hood plans on going to the Rochester Institute of Technology.

"I plan to go there and mainstream with hearing people," she said. "It's completely mainstream. It's the same work."

Hood does not play any other sports besides softball. But she does like everything about softball.

"I like it all. I like being part of each (playing the game as well as being part of the team)," she said.

And for anyone who thinks someone who can't hear her coaches and teammates can't play softball, especially fellow deaf people who might be afraid of trying, Hood has a message:

"I just want to tell all the deaf people in the United States that they can have the ability to play softball, varsity and (junior varsity). They can have the ability. They don't have to feel left out. They can participate. Just do what you want. You have the ability to do anything you want.

"That's all I can say."

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