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April 12, 2006

Indiana Deaf players' smiles shine on diamond

From: Indianapolis Star - United States - Apr 12, 2006

There are errors but many more laughs as girls learn to play softball for 1st time

By Nat Newell

Coach Rita Mowl had to explain to a player that she could overrun first on her way down the line but not when returning to the base on a throw from the outfield. One pitch floated over the catcher's head, the next zipped behind the hitter. The first baseman realized she'd grabbed the wrong glove -- they're all new -- after trying to catch a throw.

There were moments during spring practices when the first Indiana School for the Deaf softball team, which plays its initial competitive game today, looked as if it had never played the sport before. But from Brianne Catron (Miss Deaf Teen America, no less) not hesitating to take a hard grounder off her chin to a runner celebrating advancing to second on a single to the focus on the coaches' instruction, there was never a hint the girls would ever want to stop playing.

"We're pretty awkward sometimes, but I feel we're going to get there," Catron said through Becky Morris, one of the team's volunteer assistants. "We're thrilled about (having a team).

"My heart belongs to softball."

Indiana Deaf will face the Monrovia junior varsity at 5 p.m. today. The Deaf Hoosiers have seven road games scheduled, and athletic director Brian Bippus hopes to add two at home in May to be played at the State Fairgrounds' softball field near campus.

The school received a petition to start a baseball program two years ago, fielding a middle school team last season and playing its first high school game in 12 years March 30. When the girls found out about the baseball team at a school assembly in February, they expressed an interest in playing softball.

"A girl held up her hand and said, 'Can I try out for baseball?' " said Mowl, who is an algebra teacher at the school. "She got hemming and hawing, then the athletic director asked if there was an interest in setting up a softball team. A lot of girls raised their hands. I was there and thought, 'Someone needs to help them start this,' so I threw my hand in the air. The girls are excited."

The team practices on campus at Letterman Field. It has a backstop and was laid out as a softball field, but it's overgrown, has no base paths and isn't ready for a home game this year. The players arrived at the first practice three weeks ago without gloves, but the school bought the other necessary equipment and uniforms.

"I asked the girls if they could catch and throw, and they said, 'Oh yeah,' " said Mowl, who has 11 players on the roster. "Then we started and they couldn't throw or catch. They're all good volleyball and basketball players so they were really confident but they got a reality check on the first day of practice when they realized this is a different sport. It requires different skills and the ball is much smaller.

"It's a big challenge, but we see improvement."

Mowl's research uncovered softball teams at the school in 1933-34 and '71-72, but she believes they were recreation-oriented programs. Catron, who grew up in California, is the only player with any softball experience, but many of her teammates were members of the school's successful volleyball and basketball teams. That competitiveness shows through the inexperience as Chelsea Nemer slams her glove against the ground when a ball rolls through her legs at shortstop.

The players' hearing impairment isn't much of an issue as the umpires' hand signals were developed in the 1890s for William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy, a deaf-mute who played center field for 14 years in the majors. Mowl, however, has discussed the need for the players to wave their arms to communicate on fly balls.

Most of the sign language, however -- smiles, high-fives and laughs -- comes naturally.

"I enjoyed being a softball player in high school. That was over 30 years ago, but I enjoyed that and when I finished, I could play in adult leagues," Mowl said. "I wanted them to be exposed to the game so they could play for deaf clubs or go on to try out in college if they've got natural talent. I didn't want them to leave school without having exposure to softball."

First baseman Justine Jeter added: "We made this happen. This is something ISD has never had before (and) we're setting the pace."

Call Star reporter Nat Newell at (317) 444-2610.

The girls of summer
Indiana School for the Deaf has students from all over the state. Its new softball team reflects that geographical makeup:
• Indianapolis: Brianne Catron, Terelle Wade, Baswanna James.
• Fishers: Justine Jeter, Ann Whited, Micaela Paulone (manager).
• Anderson: Nukeitra Hayes.
• Carmel: Amanda Krieger.
• Evansville: Chelsea Nemer.
• Griffith: Samantha Gonzales.
• Mooreland: Betsy Huber.
• Southport: Christy Sorrell.

• Today: at Monrovia JV, 5 p.m.
• April 18: at Eminence JV, 5 p.m.
• April 25: at Eminence JV, 5 p.m.
• May 2: at Baptist Academy, 4:30 p.m.
• May 4: at Southport JV, 4:30 p.m.
• May 9: at Baptist Academy, 4:30 p.m.
• May 11: at Monrovia JV, 5 p.m.

Sports offered
• Softball.
• Baseball.
• Boys and girls basketball.
• Boys and girls track.
• Boys and girls cross country.
• Volleyball.
• Boys and girls swimming.
• Wrestling.
• Football.

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