IM this article to a friend!

October 4, 2005

Deaf student-athletes enjoy knocking down barriers

From: Honolulu Advertiser - Honolulu,HI,USA - Oct 4, 2005

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nothing will be lost in translation for bowlers at the Hawai'i Center for the Deaf and the Blind.

Over the years, deaf students who wanted to play in high school sports could only do so by joining a team from affiliated mainstream schools. For the Kapahulu-based HCDB, those were Kaimuki and later Kalani high schools. But this season, HCDB is making history by fielding its first team in O'ahu Interscholastic Association bowling.

"Finally, our school has its own team," senior Trey Balding said through his mother Mary Balding, who interpreted the sign language.

This is no small feat for the school, which has a history dating to 1914. The 10 bowlers — five boys and five girls — account for 50 percent of the eligible high-school aged students at HCDB, which has a total enrollment of 88 in all grades from preschool. Five bowlers are the maximum used for team scoring in high school. Because of other commitments, sometimes the Dolphins — the school's mascot — start fewer than five, adversely affecting their opportunity to score. That's part of the growing pains of a first-year program with a limited enrollment.

But the significance for the HCDB bowlers is that there is no need to read lips or use an interpreter to understand their coach. When the center had athletes playing football or volleyball at Kalani, they usually had an interpreter on hand.

"The issue was always communication," HCDB coach Steve Hanai said.

Not anymore.

Eric Dela Pena, an aide at the center, is deaf and has extensive experience in various sports. The 1985 graduate of Kaimuki High bowled for the Bulldogs' 1984 Eastern Division championship team and also ran track. He carries a 187 average in a league with other deaf bowlers and rolled a perfect game four years ago. He never gave much thought about coaching in high school, but he did welcome this opportunity.

"I encourage deaf kids to participate because I had the opportunity myself," Dela Pena said through Hanai.

Dela Pena also was a member of the U.S. men's volleyball team in 1993 and 1997 that competed in the World Games for the Deaf. He played setter.

Participation with the league began with the center polling its student body. When interest was shown, the center gave the OIA a commitment it would form a girls and boys team. That was easier signed than done. Unlike most of their coaching counterparts, Dela Pena and Hanai had to start with the basics with their bowlers.

Hanai said this was the bowlers' first experience in the sport. During the first practice back in May, no one knocked down more than 50 pins, he said. But they have progressed. Vuong Ho, a junior, rolled a team-high 167 in a match this season. Balding hit a 190 in practice. As of last week, Bryce Takaki's 139 average was the highest on the team. While not quite a state tournament qualifying average, one has to consider when he and his teammates started the sport.

"With more experience and practice, they'll get better," Dela Pena said. "You just have to encourage them."

Hanai said the bowlers know they have a long way to go; they notice it during meets against the other schools. A number of high school bowlers usually get their experience in junior leagues. None of the HCDB bowlers participates in outside leagues. Still, the boys have managed to win two matches this season.

"I enjoy being on a team and I enjoy the challenge," Takaki said.

As an OIA member, the center abides by the same rules as other schools.

"We have grade checks and everything," Hanai said.

Although the boys will lose 60 percent of their team to graduation, it isn't as if the sport is in danger of not fielding a team next year. Hanai said the eighth- graders who will be eligible next season are eagerly waiting their turn.

"Even the sixth-graders are asking (about joining the team in three years)," Hanai said.

Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at

© COPYRIGHT 2005 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.