GFCC and MSDB make a great team - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

GFCC and MSDB make a great team

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GREAT FALLS -- Take a trip to basketball practice at Great Falls Central Catholic High School, and you'll see the Mustangs running drills, fast breaks, and communicating with each other on the floor.

What you will also see is a different form of communication. Sign language interpreters, locked in step with coaches, conveying instructions to a few unique athletes.

West Yellowstone native Juan Diaz is a freshman at the Montana School for the Deaf & Blind in Great Falls, and along with teammate Kyle Hotzel and cheerleader Skylee Black, they make up the first group of hearing-impaired athletes to co-op with Central in five years.

Black said, "I was watching them then I was like, 'Oh, I want to try that! And it's so amazing!"

Just as amazing is the way interpreters Linda Eddards and Sandra Van Tighem are integrated into practice.

Van Tighem said, "The coaches are pretty clear themselves and basketball is a visual sport, so even if I can't interpret it, the kids can understand by the coaches on the floor." 

But there are certainly some obstacles. Hotzel has a cochlear implant which allows him some sense of sound, but when the action gets heated on the court, it can make communication difficult. 

Hotzel said, "Well, I can hear them, I can hear some speech, but when there's crowd noise it's difficult."

Diaz noted, "I have to make sure my eyes are moving on the floor, I have to make sure the coach is talking, and then I move to see the interpreter to see what the coach is saying to us."

The athletes from MSDB have quickly become valuable members of the Mustangs. and their new teammates have embraced them.

Jamie Stevens of GFCCHS said, "You know, classrooms are so important to development, but so are sports. Learning athletics and being a part of a team is so important."

Black: "I really like the crowds for basketball, it's been really amazing and it makes me so happy to see everyone so happy when they see one deaf person on the team."

In the end, sports are a universal language, and despite a disability these athletes don't consider themselves any different than any of their teammates at Central.

Hotzel: "I don't want them to treat me any different."

Stevens: "It's been one of the best things we've ever done at Central, they're a true asset to our school and community."
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