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April 22, 2004

Deaf athlete excels in softball

From: Aspinwall Valley Herald - Aspinwall,PA,USA - Apr 22, 2004

By Dave Schrecengost
Thursday, April 22, 2004

The fans cheer when Fox Chapel's shortstop makes a great play on the softball field.

Only she doesn't hear it.

Stephanie Cristina is deaf.

But she can sense the support from the crowd.

"I am very much aware of the fans because they show their support," she said. "I can see their faces and gestures, and I know that I'm doing well."

Cristina has been doing very well for Fox Chapel's softball team this spring. A new addition, the sophomore won the starting shortstop job and bats fifth in the Foxes' lineup.

"Stephanie's a quality player," Fox Chapel coach Shane Billings said. "We're happy to have her as part of our team."

And Cristina is pleased to be part of Fox Chapel's program.

"My teammates have accepted me," she said. "(The team) is like a family to me."

Cristina does not attend classes in the Fox Chapel School District. She goes to school at North Allegheny Intermediate High School, where she has been enrolled in deaf mainstreaming programs since seventh grade.

Cristina, who lives in Sharpsburg, knew some of Fox Chapel's varsity softball players. They told Billings about her.

"Stephanie played summer ball with some of our players," Billings said. "We explored the option of her becoming part of our program."

Once the details were worked out, Cristina received permission to play for the Foxes. Every day after school, she catches a bus that transports her to Fox Chapel.

The school district must provide an interpreter at every Fox Chapel practice and game. Cristina communicates through sign language and lip reading.

"It's just a little added communication on my part, but it's worked out well," Billings said. "And the kids have been great making sure things on the field are communicated properly."

Because of her handicap, Cristina must be even more aware of situations in the field, especially at a key defensive position like shortstop.

"I look around a lot and use my vision to see where baserunners are and to see my coach's signals so I know what I'm supposed to do to make plays," she said.

Stephanie is not the only softball player in the Cristina family. Younger sister Gerilee, who also is deaf, plays for Dorseyville Middle School's team and may someday join her older sister with Fox Chapel's varsity club.

Cristina's parents, Mark and Angela, her sister and two brothers, Marco and Justin, all are hearing impaired.

Stephanie hasn't allowed her handicap to hold her back.

"I have accepted my handicap, and I deal with it by going to school and having associations with my teachers and friends," she said. "I compensate by engaging in all the activities that normal kids do, hoping they accept me."

Fox Chapel was a WPIAL playoff team in 2003, and the Foxes are hoping to make another run at postseason play this season.

"I have a lot of confidence in my teammates, and our goal is to make the playoffs," Cristina said. "We have determination to accomplish that."

Her determination has gotten Cristina this far, and someday she hopes it will get her even further.

"I do hope to play college softball in the future," she said. "I'm hoping that I'll be on the right path to become a teacher or to be involved in business."

Dave Schrecengost can be reached at

copyright © 2004 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.