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January 18, 2007

She can't hear -- but she sure can play

From: Boston Globe - Boston,MA,USA - Jan 18, 2007

By Paul Harber, Globe Staff | January 18, 2007

Shaquana McDonough loves to dance, and she especially loves sports. She was the star on her unbeaten high school soccer team, and the leading scorer on a championship high school basketball team. Last spring, at her conference's outdoor track and field championship, she won the high jump and the 200-meter dash.

But Shaquana -- or Coco, as her friends call her -- will never hear the cheers from the stands for her outstanding play, nor the lyrics of her favorite artists. She is deaf.

Her parents discovered her hearing loss when she was about 6 months old. Shaquana, who was born prematurely, wore a heart monitor, and one night it sounded. Shaquana didn't flinch. "We knew at that point she had a hearing problem," said her mother, Mary McDonough.

That has not slowed down the high-energy, 16-year-old (her birthday was yesterday ) sophomore from Pembroke, and it certainly has not interfered with her passion for sports. "She only knows one speed -- full throttle," said her soccer coach, John Tassinari.

"She is a terrific athlete with unlimited potential," said Tassinari, who coaches Shaquana's club team as well as at Emerson College. "Because of the willingness of Shaquana and her teammates to work it out, it's not a problem. Someone seeing our team for the first time wouldn't realize she has a hearing loss."

Tassinari said he uses hand signals when Shaquana is on the field. "Nothing inventive, they are basically universal," said Tassinari. For example, he puts his hand to his head when he wants her to play intelligently, and he waves his arms up and down when he wants her to slow down.

It is in soccer that Shaquana has enjoyed her greatest success. The Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association selected her to play for the Olympic Development Program, a program that is the first step in identifying potential US Olympic athletes. The Women's Deaf Olympic Soccer Team invited her to join the team; she has her sights set on the 21st Deaflympic Games in 2009 in Taipei.

If you ask Shaquana which sport she prefers, she responds: "It's the one I am playing at the time. I find that basketball is tougher than soccer as an athlete. But I like all sports and want to try as many different sports as a can," she said in a series of e-mails.

Ice hockey is next on her list. "I have been dying to play," she said. The reason she does not -- yet -- is purely logistical. Basketball and hockey are the same season.

"I told her she couldn't squeeze any more time in our schedules," said her mother. "Most of our vacations are squeezing into the family car and heading off to one of her tournaments."

There have been trips to Washington, D.C., for the Pan American Deaf games last summer, where she won two gold medals and a silver, and to western Pennsylvania for the Eastern Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association Championships.

Before Shaquana came in to their lives, Stephen and Mary McDonough had five children -- Stephen Jr., Jason, Michael, Kristen, and Tyla. Then one day Mary McDonough, driving home from work, heard an advertisement about taking in and caring for handicapped children. She had just received her pink slip at work, and knew she would soon be unemployed. The ad caught her attention.

"I already had one handicapped child," Michael, now 26, who has cystic fibrosis. "I felt I could do it properly," she said.

Thus, Shaquana, Shalee, and Tanisha became part of the McDonough family. Shaquana, the youngest, was diagnosed as an infant with "failure to thrive." She was premature and weighed 3 pounds, 1 ounce.

That was in 1991. With the McDonoughs, Shaquana thrived. "She has been a ball of fire as far back as I can remember," said her mother.

The family formally adopted the three in 1995. "We fell in love with them. All three are so special," said Mary McDonough.

Shaquana's athletic talent is widely acknowledged. She is a standout for The Learning Center for the Deaf's high school basketball and soccer teams in Framingham. The basketball team has a 28-game winning streak and Shaquana is the leading scorer, knocking down 20 points and pulling down 15 rebounds a game.

By the end of January or early February, she will score her 1,000th career point, a milestone high school players usually reach during their senior, not sophomore, year.

"Shaquana impresses me with her continuing motivation to improve at anything she does," said Brad Crowell, her basketball coach at The Learning Center, and her physical education teacher there.

"She keeps the energy level very high during practice and also does not make excuses," he said. "She is willing to help other students who are not as gifted an athlete to perform challenging activities. She has not let it get to her head that she has so much athletic talent." And Shaquana, he said, is "a lot of fun to be around, always on the move."

Dancing is high on her list. Her favorite songs are "Irreplaceable " by Beyonce, "Work It " by Missy Elliott, "SexyBack " by Justin Timberlake, and "Smack That " by Akon.

"I like songs with good beats," said Shaquana, who feels the beat by the vibration of the bass.

"She has all her friends dancing," said her mother. "They've written 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show.' They would like to go on and perform."

Shaquana gets plenty of family support for her pursuits, even though the McDonoughs have their hands full with eight children. "It hasn't been easy, but when we look back, there have been so many great times," said Mary McDonough. Shaquana feels the same way about her parents.

"My parents mean so much to me. They do everything for me," she said. "I really can't describe it, but they are always there for me, from my games to my homework."

Shaquana wants to pursue a degree in physical education. Someday she would like to be an athletic administrator. "I'm looking at different colleges. Gallaudet University [a college for the deaf] is on my list. Besides Gallaudet, I'm looking at schools like Boston University and Boston College, too," said Shaquana.

"She is a great young lady. Her brothers and sisters are very proud of her," her mother said.

"She is blessed that all this comes naturally to her. She can challenge herself physically. Still, she does not take anything for granted. She knows life has meaning and she will give back some day for all the good things she was blessed with. And she will do it through sports."

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company