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January 3, 2005

Boy sticks with hockey

From: Hagerstown Morning Herald, MD - Jan 3, 2005


HAGERSTOWN - For Grant Whitaker, Hagerstown has one big advantage over St. Louis: hockey.

Grant, 10, is in his second year in the Hagerstown Youth Hockey Association. He's still learning the game's finer points.

Grant's grandparents, Richard and Pam Thierry, who are raising him, said the move has done Grant a lot of good athletically, socially and academically.

They moved from St. Louis to a house north of Hagerstown in July 2003 so Grant, who is deaf, could attend the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick, Md.

Pam Thierry said she likes the fact that the school has a challenging curriculum, which isn't true of some schools for the deaf.

Grant plays football at school, but hockey remains his top choice.

His circle of friends grew quickly when he came here, largely because he has so many deaf children around him.

For a child with good hearing to have a deaf friend, "you have to make the effort ... and kids don't want to do that," Pam Thierry said.

The Thierrys didn't know Grant was deaf until he was 2 years old. In retrospect, they realized that he responded to them only when he could read their lips.

Grant attended St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis from the age of 2 until he was in first grade.

"I wanted him to learn how to use his voice, if he can," Pam Thierry said.

Grant can and he did. He speaks well. He's more likely to jumble an occasional word because he's 10, not because he's deaf.

"San Jo-zay," he said, when he was asked to name his favorite National Hockey League team.

"San Jose," his grandmother corrected him, explaining how the "J" is pronounced.

Grant went to public school in St. Louis in first, second and third grades. Pam Thierry said he was grouped with a few deaf children, but would often move into mainstream classes for certain topics, with the assistance of a sign-language interpreter.

But there were times when it was tough to concentrate that way, Grant said, so he's glad his new school has deaf teachers who communicate through sign language.

Pam Thierry said Grant had to catch up when he entered the Maryland School for the Deaf because he had been translating English into sign language instead of using American Sign Language.

With a hearing aid, Grant can hear sounds, but not words. He'd rather not use it, though.

"It vibrates in my ear," he said.

Sign language is used sparingly around the Thierrys' household.

"We're spoiled because he reads our lips so well," Pam Thierry said.

Grant attended former NHL star Stan Mikita's Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired in Chicago and came away with some autographed memorabilia.

He's also fond of a signed stick that Tony Twist of the St. Louis Blues gave him. Pam Thierry, a nurse, helped Twist's wife when she gave birth.

Pam Thierry works at Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital.

Richard Thierry was a St. Louis County fire chief, but retired when the family moved to Washington County.

In St. Louis, the closest Grant got to hockey was a figure-skating class.

"He was horrified," his grandmother said.

In Washington County, the sports offerings are much greater, Grant said.

Grant is a good skater with plenty of potential, who will improve as his confidence builds, said Bryan Kenworthy, a coach of his Hagerstown Youth Hockey Association team.

He said he didn't know if Grant's deafness would present any problems, but it hasn't.

"It's been kind of a unique experience for us," Kenworthy said. "You make a real strong effort. When he comes off the ice, you look at him and you speak to him. He acknowledges you and gives a verbal response."

Sometimes, when Grant is on the ice, it's a matter of catching his attention or waiting until he's back on the bench.

Regardless, the true coaching is done in the days leading up to the games, Kenworthy said.

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