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September 21, 2004

GHS, MC graduate to compete at Deaf-lympics

From: Monmouth Daily Review Atlas, IL - Sep 21, 2004

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Last month, U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps became a household name after his gold medal performances in Athens.

Early in 2005 and on a slightly smaller world stage, a Monmouth College graduate will also be chasing Olympic gold.

After two separate national tryouts at the United States Olympic Committee training facilities in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jerry Clark, a 1988 MC graduate, has been named to one of 11 spots on the U.S. Deaf Olympics men's volleyball team. In fact, he is the starting middle hitter for his squad, which will join the rest of the U.S. delegation in Melbourne, Australia, from Jan. 5-16 for the 2005 Summer Deaf Olympics. The 20th Deaflympic Games are expected to attract 3,500 athletes and officials from 85 countries competing for 180 medals in 15 different sports.

An article in the Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register said the 6-foot-3 local resident "is deaf to all intents and purposes. With the assistance of a hearing aid in his left ear, he can pick up conversations from a few feet away. Without it, he hears nothing."

Clark's hearing loss dates back to his birth, as his mother had the measles when she was pregnant. He was given a hearing aid at age five, and for the next three years he attended the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville. At the age of eight, his mother enrolled him in a traditional elementary school in Galesburg, near his childhood home.

"I had to work really hard - probably three times as hard as regular students - to get where I wanted to be," Clark told the Springfield newspaper. He went on to graduate from Galesburg High School and chose to attend Monmouth College.

"I was very impressed with the admissions staff and their recruiters," recalled Clark. "Other college recruiters didn't display the kind of sincerity that Monmouth College did. That was the main reason I chose Monmouth."

Clark studied biology, and he had the good fortune to learn from a truly distinguished faculty in that department.

"Those biology classes were tough, but it was a good thing I had three great biology professors - John Ketterer, Robert Buchholz and David Allison," said Clark, who now works for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in their Bureau of Air. He coordinates the IEPA's Vapor Recovery Program and also is part of the Clean School Bus Program.

"I couldn't have done very well without the help of my classmates, Kim Buckert and Jean Peters," Clark added. "They volunteered to help me out by taking notes for me. It was a blessing to have two kind-hearted people who wanted to let me succeed in college. I still owe them big thanks for what they did for me in those four years."

Clark competed in track for all four years at Monmouth, and he recalled being a member of some of coach Roger Haynes' first teams.

"Coach Haynes was just a puppy back then, but he knew how to lead his program the right way," praised Clark, who specialized in an event that Haynes had excelled in earlier in the decade. "Placing second in the javelin in the conference championship meet my freshman year was an unbelievable experience."

Clark recalls placing the medal from that event in the casket of his grandfather, Dale I. Smith, who had been able to watch him compete as a Fighting Scot before passing away in 1986.

"Jerry's a very internally-motivated guy. He was then and he is now," said Haynes, who called Clark "eager to try to improve" during his college track days. "He was easy to work with and very attentive."

Although sports have always been a part of the athletic Clark's life, volleyball did not become a part of it until the mid-1990s. It wasn't until 2001 that he learned of a club team composed of deaf players.

While he was too late to try out for the 2001 Deaflympic Games in Rome, he did make a big impact a year later, earning MVP honors as a member of the Illinois Thunder at the National Deaf Volleyball Tournament in Salt Lake City.

So how does deaf volleyball work?

Fans of the sport know communication among the players is constant, be it shouting out the responsibility for an incoming ball or letting a teammate know to let a shot sail out of bounds.

Clark said a variety of arm and hand signals and other gestures are used instead.

"It's really the same system that most college volleyball teams would use," said Clark. "After each play is over, we all look to the setter for the numerical signal for what the next play is going to be - maybe a short set to the middle or a long set to the outside hitter, for example."

Clark noted, though, any adjustments deaf volleyball players must make are minor compared to the hurdles he and the rest of the deaf community face off the court every day.

"The biggest difficulty is getting people to understand deafness," Clark told the Springfield paper. "Not many people understand what it's like to be a deaf person. I do whatever I can to make the situation more comfortable and let them know what they should do if they come to talk to me."

Clark said that includes non-deaf people not being afraid to talk to the deaf, even if they see that sign language is being used.

"All they have to do is speak slowly in order for them to read their lips," said Clark. "Most deaf or hard-of-hearing people are good at lip-reading."

However, if that doesn't work, Clark said that communication can still be achieved.

"If non-deaf people have trouble getting their message across, they should come up with a back-up plan. They should use a paper and a pen or a text-messaging phone to interact."

In fact, said Clark, technology continues to play an important role in non-deaf/deaf communication.

"There have been some technological changes for the past 15 years, such as amplified phones, telecommunication relay services such as deaf-to-hearing services or vice versa and video relays, as well as the text-messaging phones."

He added, "Amplified phones with better clarity work wonders." Clark was using such a phone when called by the author for this story.

Though dwarfed in hype by the traditional Olympic Games, the Deaflympics are actually much closer to the Olympic ideal that many of us cherish - amateur athletes taking the stage once every four years for a shot at glory.

Sneaker and athletic apparel endorsements don't fund these athletes. Rather, it takes more of a grassroots effort to come up with the $4,500 each U.S. participant has been asked to raise to help defray costs.

To assist Clark in fulfilling his "once-in-a-lifetime dream," individuals can send checks or money orders payable to "2005 Deaflympics Team," with Clark's name on the memo line to: P.O. Box 9508, Springfield, IL 62791.

One organization that has already stepped up is the national office of Zeta Beta Tau, the fraternity Clark joined at Monmouth.

"There were so many characters within the brotherhood, yet we remained united, helping each other," recalled Clark of his ZBT days.

"They actually welcomed me in their chapter and wanted to know what it was like to be deaf. They treated me like I was one of them."

Nearly two decades later, that's still all Clark is asking. With the exception of being incredibly good at volleyball, he's just like you or me.

Copyright © 2004 Review Atlas