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August 5, 2004

'Play ball' for all

From: Chicago Daily Southtown, IL - Aug 5, 2004

Sertoma camp introduces baseball to deaf, hearing-impaired kids

Thursday, August 5, 2004

By Dan Cohen Correspondent Deaf and hearing-impaired youths are getting a special treat this week in the shape of a baseball diamond.

The Sertoma Speech & Hearing Center is holding its annual Fantasy Baseball Camp this week. The camp, co-sponsored by Cubs Care, provides the children ages 5 to 14 with baseball lessons taught by trained coaches and high school players.

"A lot of these kids have never had the opportunities to attend a camp like this because the standard little leagues don't have the abilities to accommodate the deaf or hard-of-hearing child," said Gregg Jarman, a Sertoma board member since 1990.

The event is from 6 to 8 p.m. every day this week at Moraine Valley Community College, 10900 S. 88th Ave., except for Tuesday, when the Windy City Thunderbolts donated their own Hawkinson Field, 14100 Kenton Ave, in Crestwood, as well as their mascot "Boomer."

Thirty-six kids are in the camp the largest turnout in the event's five-year history.

Rickey and Audrey Kraus sat in the stands Tuesday watching sons John, 11, and Ryan, 13, make some of the more dazzling plays of camp, while their daughter, Amber, 15, lent help as a signer. All five Krauses are deaf.

"When I grow up, I'll play baseball," said John, whose favorite players are Frank Thomas and Carlos Lee of the White Sox. "Maybe I'll hit a home run today."

A number of volunteers, including Sertoma members, sign language translators and Lincoln-Way East High School baseball players, have helped out throughout the week.

Rick "Rock" Santiago, the camp's head coach for the past four years, said he's gained a new perspective after seeing the challenges his camp players must overcome on the field.

"These guys can't judge the ball hear the crack of the bat or anything like that. It makes it hard," said Santiago, 32, a former pitching coach at Moraine Valley Community College who currently coaches in Oak Forest.

"I've been playing baseball my whole life, and it made me appreciate how different it is (to play with a hearing-impairment)."

Jarman, 50, a lawyer in Tinley Park, said the camp, which features fielding, hitting and running drills as well as an upcoming intersquad game Friday, has seen its share of talented players.

"I was watching them yesterday and they were really doing a nice job," he said. "They were shagging the fly balls and making the throw from center field to second base on a dime. So some of (the older kids) are really quite good."

The camp ends Sunday with a tailgating party at Hawkinson Field followed by the Thunderbolts game against the River City Rascals. One lucky camper will get to perform the national anthem in sign language, and another will throw out the first pitch.

Sertoma holds fundraisers and other activities to serve its communities. The group, based in Kansas City, concentrates on helping those with speech, hearing and language disorders.

Illinois' Sertoma Center in Palos Hills also supports programs such as the Career Center, the D.A.R.E. program and the Crisis Center for South Suburbia in Tinley Park.

The Fantasy Camp was founded by former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, who later adapted his project for Chicago. This year, said Jarman, the response from local hear-impaired youths has been overwhelming.

"It's great," he said. "(Santiago) has really got a great program put together. His coaching is very well organized and he has a number of really important drills to help with their running skills, throwing skills, batting skills and catching skills. So it's been a real success so far. I just hope we can keep up the momentum."

To participate in the Fantasy Baseball Camp, show up at Moraine Valley Community College from 6 to 8 p.m. today and Friday, or contact Sertoma at (708) 599-9500 for more information.

2004 © Chicago Daily Southtown