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October 20, 2004

Basketball player dreams of going far

From: Lexington Herald Leader - Lexington,KY,USA - Oct 20, 2004

By Genie Graf

Sekoe White uses exclamation points to write about his life as a freshman at Gallaudet University in Washington, a college renowned for educating students like White, who is deaf.

He likes campus life(!) and has a roommate who's become like a brother(!).

White, 19, has claim to other exclamation points: The Lexington native, who scored more than 2,000 points for Paul Laurence Dunbar and the Kentucky School for the Deaf during his high school basketball career, will play point guard, shooting guard and small forward for the Gallaudet Bison.

And White, who lost his hearing at age 2, will soon be in the international spotlight -- he recently earned a spot on the U.S. Deaf Basketball men's team and is raising money to compete at the 20th Deaflym-pic Summer Games starting Jan. 5 in Melbourne, Australia.

Keith Westhoelter, assistant coach for the Deaflympics team, said White is an excellent athlete and an all-around player.

"We are thrilled to have Sekoe on our team," Westhoelter said.

David Hamilton, a Lexington native and former Deaf-lympian, is head coach of the men's team. The team has won gold medals at the Deaflympics since 1957, Westhoelter said.

"He is the type of person that everyone wants to have as a friend and the type of player every coach wants on their team," Hamilton said of White.

Raising money to send players to Australia could be the team's biggest hurdle to defending its gold medal.

"Due to fund-raising challenges, we may not be able to send some of our best players to represent the U.S.A. at the Deaflympics," Westhoelter said.

To make the trip, White must raise $4,500(!), which helps pay for transportation, lodging and food, and uniforms. The USA Deaf Sports Federation is covering an additional $3,000, the remainder of the cost to send each player and coach to Melbourne.

"We're almost halfway there," said Cathy Brandt of Lexington, who has known White since he was an elementary student and is his fund-raising coordinator.

White, Brandt and his family have raised money by selling T-shirts, sponsoring a fish fry in September and accepting donations.

White has written letters asking for support to several organizations for the deaf, Lexington businesses, friends and family.

The next fund-raisers are two bake sales this month at Wal-Marts in Lexington.

The money must be raised by Nov. 30.

Brandt met White about 14 years ago, when she taught deaf education at Ashland Elementary. White, who lost his hearing because of multiple ear infections and meningitis, was in her class.

"He stole my heart and hasn't given it back since," Brandt said.

She said White grew up with his sights set on college and playing basketball. White is studying to become a physical education teacher.

"This is a success story about an African-American man who in many eyes has many strikes against him," Brandt said. "He's proud of his deafness, proud of where he comes from and refuses to see it as a negative.

"I think Lexington and the state of Kentucky would be proud of a product of the public school system and despite all odds is making his dreams come true. When we have the opportunity to support and contribute, that is our moral obligation and civic duty to help others help themselves."

Eddie Oakley, head basketball coach at Dunbar, said he and his wife, members of this year's basketball team and several teachers at the school plan to donate money for Sekoe's trip.

"This is an awesome and well-deserved experience for Sekoe," he said.

White said he feels blessed by those who would support his dream of competing in Australia.

"I plan to represent my Kentuckian people with a beautiful pride!" he wrote in response to questions e-mailed to him. (White also communicates via a T-Mobile Sidekick, a cell phone with a screen and full keyboard that is popular with the deaf community, Brandt said.)

White's parents, Barbara Lyles and Virgil White Jr., will not travel to Australia because of the expense, Brandt said: His mother works two jobs, and his father is on medical disability.

Brandt plans to make the trip to see White compete.

But what if the fund-raising campaign comes up short?

"There's no way he willnot have the money to go," Brandt said. "Because I will give him the money I have saved and I will stay home."

© 2004 Lexington Herald-Leader and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.