Calvin College pitcher is deaf but her play rings loud and clearThe Grand Rapids Press
Ruth Anna Spooner felt Wednesday afternoon's strong winds whip through her hair while practicing with the Calvin College softball team at the Gainey Athletic Facility.
But she couldn't hear the gusts.
Just like Spooner can't hear the pop of her glove when she catches a ball, the ping of the aluminum bat when she laces a single up the middle, or the chattering of the other players on the field. Nor does she do any chattering herself.
Spooner, 18, is a freshman pitcher from Twin Falls, Idaho, who has been deaf since being stricken with spinal meningitis as a 20-month-old.
Not hearing the game of softball is the only way she knows how to play the sport.
"I know it sounds weird, but it's completely normal to me," Spooner said through sign language interpreter Colleen Maring, a Calvin junior from Salem, Ore.
"I'm the only deaf person in my family, so I'm used to having people around me talk and hear all the time. I've never heard, so it's not really different for me to play with a deaf team or with a hearing team. I'm used to having everything quiet.
"I can see the coach yelling," the left-hander added. "I can see my teammates cheering for me, but I can't hear it. Sometimes I think it's better that way. I'm not easily distracted."
Spooner has helped the Knights to a 19-15 record, and an 11-3 mark in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association by winning six of 10 games during her 13 appearances (10 starts). She has a 2.53 earned run average, six complete games, 61 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 66 innings.
"A lot of people look at deaf people and say, 'They can't, they can't. They need to be separated (from the rest of the public),' " Spooner said. "I think that's completely ridiculous.
"There's no reason why I can't play anything, or do anything I want to do. When I played softball in high school, people were like, 'Wow, how can you play?' I was like, 'Well, I just play.' "
Sara Christner is Calvin's associate head coach who no longer looks at Spooner as a deaf pitcher, but as a Knights player.
"She is just a remarkable person who has an incredible amount of maturity, poise and a great understanding for the game," Christner said.
"Ruth Anna has been a huge asset to our program, and it's been pretty incredible to watch our team adapt and adjust to having a deaf pitcher. It's made all of us grow in terms of our communication, our team effort, and the way we have used this to do amazing things as a group."
Christner added that it's gotten to the point where she doesn't tell umpires that Spooner is deaf.
"Because they'd probably never know, since our team encourages her the same way they encourage everyone else," Christner said. "And her peripheral vision is great. She doesn't miss anything. It's been pretty incredible."
Since softball is a game of signs, Spooner and Calvin catcher Angie Sietsema decide on what pitches to throw the same way the Grandville backstop deals with her other hurlers.
But the two go beyond simple pitch signs.
"She's been very patient, and has taught me a few signs so we can communicate better on the field," said Sietsema, a sophomore who leads the Knights with a .326 batting average. "Ruth Anna's also awesome at reading lips.
"She's a phenomenal pitcher who has helped our team as a player, and has someone who is deaf. We've all grown as better people because of Ruth Anna's presence, and the things we've learned from her."
Not only is Spooner a rare athlete, she's also recognized as the only signing deaf student enrolled at an American Christian college.
"There are just so few deaf students who are Christians, because there's little ministry for them," said the graduate of the Idaho School for the Deaf. "Most deaf people are either non-religious or Mormon. A lot of people in the deaf community were surprised that I wanted to go to a Christian school."
As an English major, Spooner is assigned sign interpreters in her classes. On occasion, she is aided by a note taker if she is unable to keep up with a fast-speaking professor.
"I was looking at private Christian colleges, and there's not very many in the West," Spooner said. "Calvin has a really good academic program and a pretty good softball team, so I decided to come here.
"It's been different coming to Calvin and no longer being at a totally deaf school. Here, there's not much of a deaf community, but I've gotten along fine with all the girls in my dorm and on the team. A few of them have learned sign language.
"Sometimes I do miss being with totally deaf people, but that's pretty rare."
And just like in softball, Spooner is determined to be successful academically at Calvin.
Even if she can't hear or speak like the other students.
"It was difficult when I first got here," Spooner said. "But I'm willing to put in a lot of work in school, because my education is important to me.
"I may be deaf, but I'm still a human being who can be the best I can be at anything I do."
© 2004 Grand Rapids Press. Used with permission
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