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Feature on Deaf Softball Player

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Greg Pickel, Mar 25, 2010.

  1. Greg Pickel

    Greg Pickel Member

    As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for your feedback!

    The crack of a bat, the roar of the fans, the booming voice of the umpire, all things softball players take for granted as being normal sounds at a game. But for some players, the only roar they hear is a silent one, one made not through boisterous noises, but through a series of hand signals and gestures. Podunk’s Shauni Cleland sees the game in this way, and to her, it’s just as beautiful through sign language as it is through noises.
    Born the daughter of Harry and Marcia Cleland, Shauni Cleland has grown up to be the average American teenager on the outside. With blonde hair, blue eyes, and a never relenting smile, she appears to the passer-by as any other senior in high school, playing sports, hanging out with friends, and looking to the future. But stick around just a little while longer, and you’ll start to notice things. The speed of her fingers, the intense focus on the person speaking to her, and of course, the smile. Shauni was born with full hearing impairment, a condition that affects under four percent of people under eighteen. Most people would see this condition as a stroke of horrible luck, something to look at as a downer and a negative, not as a positive. However, for Shauni, it is easy to look at and cherish and accept everything about her life, with some help from her parents. Through a interpreter, she said, “My parents really support me to keep it going, and don’t let me think that deafness will get in the way. If my parents never supported me, I would be able to quit and think negatively about things, but luckily, they’re there 100 percent.” It’s through family support, her sister Sam is also deaf, and support from teachers, friends, and coaches, that has allowed Shauni to find and reach her potential, and accomplish things she thought she couldn’t.
    Even school is turned in to an adventure for Shauni. “Because Podunk does not have a deaf program, I have to go toTownship in the morning. Then in the afternoon, I go to Vo Tech where I am taking classes that hopefully will prepare me to be a veterinary assistant.” After a hectic school day, it’s then time for her favorite past time, softball. “I played my freshmen and junior year, and now my senior year as well, and I love it!” said Shauni, through her interpreter for that evening, Jennifer Franklin, “softball has been passed down through my family, so it’s just natural that I play. I love playing infield. Outfield, not so much.” She said, with an innocent smile. Shauni will play second base for the Lady Raiders softball club this season, a team directed by 4th year head coach Don Graham. “Shauni and her sister (Sam) have both come through the program, and they’re both great. Shauni loves to play the infield, and gives us everything she has every time she takes the field.”
    Every team needs someone, something, to rally around. Sometimes it’s a player who barely makes the team. Other times, it’s a player or someone close to the program that has passed on. For the Podunk Rollers, it’s Shauni. “Playing short stop, it’s my job on the field to make sure Shauni knows everything she needs to know about the situation. I know enough sign language to get by, and it’s cool because we can help each other,” said Mackenzie Trafka, a junior who has played on varsity for three years, “it’s great to have her on the team, because it’s awesome to watch everyone rally around her, to help her in any way possible. It makes us stronger as a whole.” Starting centerfield Alonna Williams related a story from last season. “Shauni came up for us in a big spot last season, and came through with a big hit. Most of the time people think of wild cheering when a big hit happens, but instead everyone stood along the fence and waved their hands, the sign language sign for clapping. It was amazing that we could use her language to express our excitement in pure silence.” Even with her sister Sam lost to graduation, Shauni is still able to communicate with one teammate through sign language all the time. “I met Shauni when I was ten, and sorta just picked up the sign language as we got to know each other,” said Megan Heckman, a junior first basemen and catcher, “it’s important for Shauni to know what’s going on, and I’m glad I can be able to help on the field. She works just as hard as everyone else, she’s one of us.” “We sometimes look at her and smile, and try signing, even though it doesn’t always work the way we’d like it too.” Said Williams. Sometimes for the Podunk softball team, even though it isn’t perfect, silence is golden.
  2. ringer

    ringer Member

    Whoa - Sorry to say this, but I think you missed a potentially greater story. Two deaf sisters played softball at that school? And less than 4% of people under 18 have what she/they have? Seems like there's much more to this story.

    But about what you've written...

    To your credit, there's a lot of cringe-worthy stuff about disabilities that's NOT in here. So that's good. You didn't go that route, and -- even better -- you didn't drop the "i" word that is so cliche and that many people with physical impairments loathe (hint: inspiration)

    As for what needs work... I don't know if the formatting got lost when you pasted it into this forum, but there definitely should be more than four paragraphs to this story.

    There were also several key facts missing or buried: her exact age, the fact that she's a senior, some of her softball stats, what the team's W-L record is, when the next game is... also, exactly what her condition is. "Full hearing impairment" sounds like a euphemism. If it is really the official term for "deaf," then you should say that's the medically accepted term. Otherwise, why dance around it? If the diagnosis is something else then say what it is and concisely explain what it means. Also, you never say if she can read lips. Or how she communicates with the coach. Or what's difficult for her and where she has an advantage because she's deaf.)

    The last graf has some nice moments, though: the crowd reaction when she had a hit, the other player on the team that can sign....

    For comparison... here's a link (below) to a story about a deaf motocross rider that you might find helpful/instructional. Pay attention to the writer's careful selection of details and how, though these details, the writer is able to take readers into the athlete's world. Also note that the writer never makes platitudes like "every team needs something to rally around" or "most people would see this condition...as a downer" or for this player the game is "just as beautiful through sign language as noises" (btw, Shauni never had hearing, so that last assertion is completely bogus). You can make those points in other, more effective ways.

    Hopefully, you take this constructively. I think it's cool that you took a tough subject and gave it a shot.

  3. Greg Pickel

    Greg Pickel Member


    Thanks for the insight! Yeah, the formatting posted here is a MESS. Couldn't get it to transfer over properly, so just left it as is.

    Maybe I was not clear enough in the story.. There were two deaf sisters who played at the school. One graduated last year, the other is a senior this year, and that is who the article is about. The sister is off at some college for the deaf, so pretty tough to do it from that angle, although it would be a good idea.

    I will go back and re-do some of the wording and phrases as you suggested. As for the stats and softball specific stuff, that is difficult. The team is horrible, has won two games in four years. The coach is there more for the money then anything, doesn't really know the sport, and had no stats for me, and she really had no idea what they were either. This story is more of a filler for us as we transfer from HS winter sports to HS spring sports, as we are a weekly. If I had more time with this, I would certainly ask for other ways you'd suggest doing this, but with just one chance to talk to her, it didn't give me much of a chance to get everything I would have liked,

  4. Greg Pickel

    Greg Pickel Member

    Few things I forgot to mention..

    There are different stages of being deaf... Partially deaf, fully deaf, and one other I think, hence the full hearing impairment phrase. I will have to look up the official medical term, but I'm pretty sure that's the one for the level of hearing loss she's at.

    How would you suggest making the point of "needing someone to rally around" in a more effective way? I always thought that sounded cliche, but I'm not really sure how to better word that one.

    Asked specifically in the interview about advantages, she gave none.
  5. ringer

    ringer Member


    It's OK to say the team has a losing record. Don't hide the truth. You just need to give readers some context and the W-L record is a very straightforward way to do it.

    Re: diagnosis - can you ask Shauni or her parents? I don't know a ton about deafness, but with blindness I know there can be many different causes -- each with varying degrees of severity. "Full hearing impairment" sounded like a degree of severity rather than a cause. One reason to identify the cause is that people might be able to relate to it, or know someone who has the same thing. Specificity is always a good thing.

    Re: the coach...even if he isn't the most adept, he has to communicate with his players. I would still like to know how he communicates with Shauni in the dugout and/or on the field.

    Re: pros/cons of being a deaf softball player... Shauni may not the best person to ask because she only knows one way to play. Ask the coach. He'll have a much wider perspective because he can compare her to his hearing players, and he can compare Shauni to her older, deaf sister. Even if he believes Shauni has no advantages/disadvantages and explains why-- I think that's good information to put in the piece.

    re: how to make the point of "needing someone to rally around" -- I'd drop it entirely because I think it's BS. There are myriad motivations for winning (i.e. striving for excellence, having goals, school pride). To imply that the Podunk team is just trying to win for the deaf girl is fairly insulting/condescending, don't you think? Even worse, if she's their rallying point and the team is still pathetic, then she's really not a very effective rallying point, is she? Omitting that line strengthens your piece.

    Good luck. Again, I hope it helps. Gotta get back to work now...
  6. Greg Pickel

    Greg Pickel Member

    Thanks again for the advice Ringer, I'm going to take all of that in to account! I will respond by PM to any of your points if I have any specific things, but everything looks usable. Thanks!
  7. Greg Pickel

    Greg Pickel Member

    Working on this now, one of the bigger changes I've made was to delete the four percent line. I couldn't find any official organization to back that one up, and the more research I do the more I read how difficult and inconsistent numbers are when it comes to counting the number of deaf people. I think I will see what degree/type of deafness she has, and then try and find numbers for that.

    Thanks again for the critique!
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