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December 11, 2003

Interpreter helps hearing-impaired students experience hockey game

From: The Citizen's Voice, PA - Dec 11, 2003

By Michael Sadowski , Times-Shamrock News Writer

Joanna Koonce didn't hear it when the two hockey players slammed into the glass around the ice rink with a mighty thud.

She didn't hear the "Ooooos" and "Ahhhhhs" that accompanied it either.

But when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins winger Michael Ouellet scored his second goal of the first period against the Hershey Bears to bring 8,000-plus Penguin fans to their feet in thunderous approval?

Yeah, she heard that.

"It's incredibly loud in there," Koonce, 19, a deaf student at Scranton State School for the Deaf, said through a sign language interpreter. "I can feel it and I can even hear it."

Koonce was one of 13 deaf students from the local school taking in Wednesday night's Penguins game at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza.

It was her first live hockey game.

The students watched the game and even listened to the action through the help of an interpreter.

It was the first time, according to Penguins officials, a game had ever been signed for a group of deaf individuals in the five-year history of the franchise.

William Hartman Jr., 15, another of the students, has been to hockey games before as a fan of the Reading Royals.

The sound and feel of a raucous crowd screaming at the top of their collective lungs at a game is nothing new for him, but he said Wednesday's crowd at the arena was impressive.

"It shook my head," he said. "It was that loud. This is a great place. I'm glad they have an interpreter here, because a lot of kids are watching their first game. It's easier for them to understand with the interpreter."

Jon Antal, 38, of Gouldsboro, the director of the school's residential program, said he tries to get the kids out to local events as much as possible.

Though the group was perched high in the upper deck of the arena, he said the situation was "ideal" for the students to get a feel for the game.

"If we were closer to the rink, we might be able to feel the vibrations a little better," he said through an interpreter. "This game has a lot of vibrations, a lot of feel. But trust me, we get it up here."

The Penguins won the game, 6-4.

©The Citizens Voice 2003