IM this article to a friend!

May 3, 2003

Reading the signs

From: Albany Democrat Herald, OR - May 3, 2003

These high school athletes don't let hearing loss affect their play

By Patrick Gurczynski
Mid-Valley Sports

If Kevin Alley stares blankly at an umpire after a called strike, chances are it's not because he disagrees with the call.

It's because he didn't hear the call.

Alley was born deaf, but it doesn't stop him from participating in athletics at Lebanon High School. The junior plays football in the fall and baseball in the spring.

At South Albany High School, Katelyn and Alison Ecker are in a similar position.

The sisters were born with severe to profound hearing loss. Unlike Alley, the Ecker sisters are only partially deaf, and can hear with assistance from hearing aides. In the classroom they have their teachers wear special microphones that work only with their hearing aides. While it proves effective, there are some side effects.

"Sometimes the teachers forget they're on," Alison said. "They'll go outside to talk on the phone or talk to a kid and they forget to turn them off."

Alley has a translator, provided by the school district, that signs information to him from his coaches and teachers.

The Eckers also read lips, so when their coach, Patrick Williams, addresses the team, he makes sure to stand directly in from of them.

"I have to talk to them straight on," Williams said. "I can't be looking somewhere else when I talk to them, but they know for the most part, they move so that they can see me."

For Alley, it's up to his interpreter, Brenda Bianchi, to position herself next to his coaches and teachers, but it must be done in a way that Alley can still concentrate on both. While she has worked with hearing impaired athletes before, baseball presented a new challenge.

"I've learned more than I ever thought I would about baseball," Bianchi said. "It's a very complicated game, but Kevin has helped me a lot."

Together they would often study baseball during Alley's study hall. He would try to explain to her what his coaches might try to tell him during the game, but there are times when she still finds herself lost. When those opportunities arise, she either spells it out or asks the coach to explain it to her.

"I worked with some swimmers and kids that did track, but there is more interpreting with baseball," Bianchi said.

All three kids live the lives of typical high school students. Both Alison and Alley have alarm clocks that vibrate under their pillow rather than make noise. Katelyn has an alarm clock that flashes a bright light.

Both Katelyn and Alley have driving licenses, and while their hearing loss is stated on their license, they have no restrictions on when or where they can drive.

On the playing field, none of them are hindered by their disability. The Eckers talk to their opponents before every match and let them know that they won't be able to hear them calling shots in or out. Instead, they ask for some sort of visual.

They are not limited to tennis because of their impairment. Alison also ran cross-country, but the sisters chose tennis because they enjoy it.

"Tennis is fun to play," Katelyn said. "Plus, it's nice because you're playing as an individual, but you can still help the team."

Alley enjoys both baseball and football. He relies heavily on his vision on the football field. As a running back, he watches the quarterback intently and moves when he does.

There are fewer obstacles to overcome on the baseball diamond. Some of his teammates have learned a little sign language.

"I've played baseball for a long time," Alley said through his interpreter. "Baseball is not a problem for me."

His coaches have also had to adapt. Head baseball coach Jeff Stolsig makes sure to talk to the umpires before the game. He makes sure they know Alley isn't questioning the call that was made, but rather wanting to know what the call was.

"There are obstacles to overcome," Stolsig said. "Everyone has found ways to, and it's amazing how he has adapted."

The Ecker sisters have accepted their impairment, but that's not to say there aren't frustrating moments.

"It's a challenge," Katelyn said. "Everyday there's an obstacle, but it's given me more patience and understanding. I'm much more readily accepting of other people."

Added Alison: "I think it would be so cool to be able to hear. It can be frustrating at times, but it's not something I can control."

Copyright © 2003 ? Lee Enterprises