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May 19, 2004

Scholar-Athletes lead the way at St. Mary's School for the Deaf

From: Buffalo News - Buffalo,NY,USA - May 19, 2004

News Staff Reporter

It's a gorgeous spring day. Out on the expansive front lawn of their St. Mary's School for the Deaf campus, soccer tri-captains Tony DeMare, Justin Whitmore and Anthony Baskin seem oblivious to the newspaper photographer for a moment, each of them quietly juggling a soccer ball with his head or feet.

They've just donned their soccer uniforms, perhaps for the last time for the nation's top-ranked deaf soccer team. The numbers on their backs read 15, 6 and 8.

In the classroom, though, they have different numbers: 1, 2 and 3.

As in valedictorian, salutatorian and third-ranking member of their senior class.

Tony, Justin and Anthony share a special sense of pride at their academic and athletic accomplishments. In a lengthy interview through an interpreter, they suggested that their achievements are more than just for themselves.

In a sense, they want to be the face of the accomplished deaf student-athlete.

"It's really something to be proud of," Anthony said, through signing interpreter Karen Gambino. "We've worked hard, to try to prove to the world that we can do anything. It's a great accomplishment for us. We feel proud to be deaf."

Tony, the only one of the three who spoke his words during the interview, added, "We want to make people notice the deaf."

Justin, listening to the wisdom of his two good friends, flashed a big smile as he signed his reply: "I have nothing to add."

Tony, Justin and Anthony are three of 231 seniors from 79 public, private and parochial schools in Erie and Niagara counties being honored Thursday night at the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association's 24th annual Scholastic Achievement Recognition Dinner.

The dinner will start at 6:45 p.m. in the Buffalo Niagara Marriott in Amherst, with U.S. Attorney Michael A. Battle delivering the main speech.

Justin, Anthony and Tony have a different kind of school day from the other top scholastic achievers. Each morning, they go to their hometown high schools - Anthony and Justin to North Tonawanda, Tony to Alden - where they attend mainstreamed classes with hearing students, with the help of interpreters.

Then they go to St. Mary's, for additional classes and athletics.

And the atmosphere is different at St. Mary's. It's a small school, with only about 130 students from infancy to age 21 and only 10 members in the graduating class. So the school is more tight-knit, lacking the cliques and competitiveness found in some schools.

"We're like family," said Justin, the salutatorian. "We all talk to each other."

Seven of the school's 10 seniors are attending college in the fall, five going to Rochester Institute of Technology, with its National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and the other two going to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Tony and Anthony are headed to Gallaudet, Justin to RIT. Gallaudet offers more of a pure deaf culture, while RIT provides more of a mix between the deaf and hearing cultures.

"I want to experience the deaf world in depth, because I grew up in the mainstream hearing world," Tony said. Tony didn't attend St. Mary's until later in elementary school.

Justin wanted a more mixed culture, at RIT. And Anthony, named the nation's top deaf high school soccer player and the co-player of the year in basketball, chose Gallaudet largely because he wants to play in college.

At St. Mary's, all three young men played soccer, basketball and track and field. Playing on the nation's top deaf soccer team, Justin and Anthony both earned Deaf All-American honors. Tony will graduate as the school's valedictorian.

As the three good friends talked about both their accomplishments and their goals, St. Mary's secondary school principal, Michael V. Dowling, marveled at how much these young men have achieved.

"As I sit here listening to them, I realize they're ready to leave, ready for college, ready for the world," Dowling said. "They're ready to move on and be successful with their lives. They're all three fine gentlemen. I think they're going to make St. Mary's proud, make the deaf community proud and make their families proud.

"And I'm proud," he added.

The three student athletes were asked what message they'd like to send to others.

"I want to say that we're just like you, but we can't hear," Anthony said.

"I would say, treat everybody equally, deaf or hearing," Tony said.

"You're not above or below us," Justin added. "We're all the same."

"And we can beat you, too," Anthony said, all three young men nodding in agreement, big smiles on their faces.


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