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May 24, 2003

Track and field: Deaf junior captures gold medal in Class AAA discus

From: Pittsburgh Post Gazette, PA - May 24, 2003

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. -- The PIAA Class AAA discus champion didn't hear his name announced to the crowd. He didn't hear the cheers from a few thousand fans as he stepped to the highest spot on the winners' stand.

Andrew Cohen is deaf. But yesterday, his silence was golden.

Cohen, a junior, became the first athlete in Franklin Regional history to win a gold medal at the PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg University. His throw of 170 feet, 9 inches in the discus was good enough to beat defending champion Ed Ruiz of William Tennent, who threw 168-10.

Afterward, Cohen was flashing a golden smile as he answered reporters' questions in sign language, using his mother, Debby, as an interpreter.

"I've always believed you have two choices in life," Cohen said. "You can let the obstacle take you down, or you can take the obstacle down. Obviously, I conquered the obstacle."

Cohen's mother almost got emotional while talking about her son.

"I'm just so proud of him," she said. "I just can't believe everything he's overcome."

Cohen was born deaf. But throughout his years in the Franklin Regional school district, he has been mainstreamed into regular classes. And he is a straight-A student.

He became the first WPIAL athlete to win the Class AAA discus since Upper St. Clair's Josh Currance did it in 1992.

"I'm very happy," Cohen said. "It's going to take a while for me to cool down."

A year ago, Cohen finished ninth at the WPIAL championships and did not qualify for the PIAA meet.

"Every year, I've improved a significant amount," he said.

Cohen was one of four WPIAL athletes who won PIAA titles on the first day of the two-day event. Finals were held in 14 field events. The rest of the field events and all of the running finals will be decided today.

The other WPIAL winners were:

Chartiers Valley senior Dana Ventrone in the Class AAA long jump.

Valley senior Mycah Clemons in the Class AA long jump.

Montour senior Lindsay Bihler in the Class AAA high jump

For Ventrone, Clemons and Bihler, they picked a good time to reach personal bests in their events. Ventrone won with a jump of 18-3. It is the 13th-best all-time by a WPIAL girl.

"I've been here all four years of my career, but for some reason I couldn't ever win it," Ventrone said.

Ventrone used a different approach to this year's championship meet -- literally.

"I changed my approach a couple weeks ago," she said. "I was coming down the runway so fast that I couldn't control my jump. My trainer helped me slow down my approach just a little and that helped."

Ventrone is the first Chartiers Valley girl to win a PIAA title since 1974, when Debbie Villani won the 80-yard hurdles and Phyl Silcock the discus.

Clemons, meanwhile, won the Class AA long jump for the second year in a row with a jump of 18-0. Last season, she won with 17-5 1/2.

"I jumped 18 on my first jump," Clemons said. "That's weird because this year I won it on my first jump. Last year, I won it on my last jump."

Bihler became the first Montour girl to win a PIAA title when she cleared 5-6 in the high jump. It was the final competition in Bihler's career because she has a scholarship to play volleyball at Point Park.

"I had been stuck for a year at 5-5," Bihler said. "I'd say I cleared that about 10 times in the past year, but never 5-6. It was nice to finally get over it, especially in my last meet."

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