IM this article to a friend!

February 18, 2004

Stults is Wilson's outside threat despite being deaf

From: Times Daily - Florence,AL,USA - Feb 18, 2004

By Josh Bean Sports Editor

As Wilson coach Josh Cooper describes the nuances of a halfcourt set, assistant coach Brad Netwon lends a helping hand.

Motioning to Wesley Stults, Cooper walks the junior guard through the paces of a diagonal cut and uses hand motions to drive home the point.

That's because Stults is deaf.

"Wesley doesn't have the ability to hear," Wilson senior Jonathan Oakley said. "God didn't give him that ability, but he doesn't count that as a loss. He keeps driving forward, and I think that's a good thing.

"You know, my eyesight is really bad, and I always say I'm just blessed to even be able to see. I can't understand what it's like not to be able to hear. He doesn't look at it as something that keeps him down, and he just keeps going and keeps driving."

Stults played all season on the Warriors' junior varsity, and he was elevated to the varsity after the county tournament.

He hit a 3-pointer against Deshler in Saturday's area championship game, and he will be a key reserve Friday when the Warriors travel to East Lawrence for sub-regional play.

Stults is considered one of the team's best perimeter shooters, and Cooper said he's improved his defense considerably since Christmas.

"He's come in after the B-team season and has given us a big lift," Oakley said. "It's funny, I call him 'Butter Stults,' because he hardly ever misses."

Having a deaf player, though, poses unique challenges for coaches communicating with players and players communicating with each other.

Cooper has learned that every play must have a hand signal, which allows Stults to remain on the same page with his teammates.

During timeouts and at halftime, Newton often writes on a clipboard or dry erase board while Cooper barks instructions.

"I read lips, and a lot of the players have learned to sign," the 5-foot-11 Stults said, while his mother, Susan, translated via sign language. "Sometimes, it's confusing. I ask Coach Newton to explain it to me, or Coach Cooper."

The focus on communication, however, helps the Warriors.

Players make a point to flash hand signals to Stults about the next play, which also serves as a reminder for everyone else.

"We know the more we can communicate with him, the better he can play," said junior guard Matt Burgess, who also played on the junior varsity this season. "That's what being a team is – making everyone

on your team better."

Teammates consider Stults one of the team's smartest and most aware players, which helps everyone else remain focused.

"We're not blessed with a lot of common sense with our guys, but Wesley, I guess because of his disability, has been blessed with good reasoning skills, and he definitely uses those to the best of his ability," Burgess said. "He's just so observant. He picks up on what's going on.

"Most of the guys, we'll be sitting on the bench, and coach will tell us to go in. He'll tell us what plays we're running on offense and defense. Wesley already knows that, because he's always looking at what's going on."

Added Oakley, "I've noticed the one thing about Wesley is that even though he can't hear the coach, he hardly ever makes a mistake. He's focused and concentrated on what he's doing."

Stults lost his hearing when he was six months old after having an extremely high fever.

His father, Tracy, said the family visited the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega when Wesley was a child, but they ultimately decided to send him to public school.

"We just figured once he finished there, he'd have to deal with the real world," Tracy Stults said. "We just figured he might as well go ahead and deal with it."

Stults began playing basketball and baseball in youth leagues, and he has always attended public schools.

Wilson has several other deaf students, and two interpreters help translate teachers' instructions with sign language during school hours.

At basketball practice, though, players and coaches must communicate the best way they know how.

All of them know some sign language, and Cooper said Stults is so intuitive that communication is rarely a problem.

On the court, there are also advantages for Stults.

"Last year on the B-team, any time we were shooting a technical, he was going to do it," Cooper said. "Yeah, he's a good shooter, but besides that, he doesn't hear the noise. The cheerleaders can scream and holler and beat on the bleachers all they want, and he just blocks that out, because he doesn't hear it."

Added Newton, "He's made some shots at the end of a game with people screaming and hollering at him."

Once basketball ends, Stults will head to the sport he loves – baseball.

An infielder and pitcher, Stults earned Class 4A/5A honorable mention all-area honors as a sophomore. He said his goal is to become a professional baseball player.

For now, though, he's concentrating on basketball.

"Our goal is for us to keep winning and win the state championship," Stults said.

Josh Bean can be reached at 740-5725 or

© Copyright 2003 Times Daily. All Rights Reserved.