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Strength in Signs
SCAD softball players learn to communicate with a deaf teammate.

By Lanie Lippincott Peterson
Savannah Morning News
November 30, 2003

At the Savannah College of Art and Design, the women's softball team held practice the other day - but there were no balls, bats or gloves.

Instead, a dozen young women in black T-shirts and yellow shorts sat in a semicircle in a downtown gym and learned sign language.

Outfielder Joyce Hom, who is deaf, showed teammates how to count. And, with precise hand movements and frequent smiles, she taught them how to sign some key softball words: "steal," "score," "throw," "hustle" and "nice play."

Batting, throwing and stealing a base are part of the game, but these players were practicing another critical skill: communication.

Their goal is simple: to bridge the gap between Hom, 20, and her fellow players who can hear.

A junior majoring in illustration, Hom joined SCAD this fall after two years at Gallaudet University, a renowned school for the deaf in Washington, D.C.

When she came out for softball in September, she and her teammates had trouble understanding each other.

"We all take it for granted how we communicate," said team co-captain Neelum Tiwari, a senior in graphic design. "But at first, it was difficult."

Not that the team didn't try a couple of things. They used a dry eraser board and markers, Hom and her teammates wrote each other notes. When the team huddled at the end of practice, one of Hom's team mates would write down what the coach had said.

Still, there were communication problems.

"She was in the outfield, so far away. And I was struggling sometimes to get her attention," said head softball coach Terri Knecht.

And sometimes, when Knecht talked to her, Hom said, "I would be in the dark."

As the fall season continued, Hom wasn't eligible to play until next year because she was a transfer student. But, she could practice with the team. On the field and on the bus, she began teaching fellow players how to sign a few words.

Those first lessons gave Knecht an idea.

She proposed a series of classes in sign language for the whole team.

Assisted by Beverly Williams, SCADS's coordinator of deaf services, Hom has led three classes so far and hopes to hold at least one more in January.

Hom was ready and eager to teach the other day. Squatting on the floor, she consulted a brief written outline. Then she signed "Hello" and divided her fellow players into teams. She asked them to sign names of a variety of fruits and spell a partner's name. The lessons took a light-hearted approach. When someone made a mistake, Hom and all the players laughed.

Team members liked what they were learning.

"We're getting better," said Christina Queen, 21. "This is really interesting. It's helped us get closer to Joyce and this really helps on the field."

Co-captain Lisa Donofrio learned some sign language years ago, when she was a Girl Scouts.

"But I'm still learning and I would love to learn more," she said. "It's fun."

But most of all, sign language has helped this team, she said.

"This brings us together as a team."



Help Kids Hear is a site dedicated to helping parents of deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. We are parents of hard of hearing kids and simply want to "give back" to the community. We welcome your comments, questions & suggestions. Please drop us a note at