Ohio Wesleyan forward Greg White has a hearing aid in his right ear and a cochlear implant in his left. Neither works well when crowds get loud during games, so he reads lips and teammates use sign language.
OHIO WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY PHOTO |
DELAWARE, Ohio - In fall 2009, Ohio Wesleyan men's basketball coach Mike DeWitt noticed that Greg White wasn't paying attention during a preseason practice.
"I figured Greg was just another player who wasn't going to listen to me," DeWitt said, smiling. "I thought, 'He's going to fit in really well here.'"
Later that day, center Billy Reilich, who has known White since third grade in Centerville, told DeWitt that White was deaf.
DeWitt was taken aback. Had he not scouted White at Centerville High School and talked with his coach? Had he not given the White family a tour of campus? Had he not conversed with White face to face many times?
"Billy said, 'Greg can hear, but sometimes you have to look right at him when you talk because he reads lips,'" DeWitt said. "Greg was too shy to bring it up."
White's hearing was never brought up because he has never considered it a problem. He can pick up low-level sounds such as an eraser on a blackboard and soft rain on the roof of a car because of a hearing aid in his right ear and a cochlear implant in his left.
He speaks clearly, although people have asked if he is from a foreign country. There is a hint of what can best be described as baby talk in his speech.
White, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound forward, couldn't resist throwing a jab at himself.
"Sometimes I do have selective hearing," he said. "We'll be watching TV and someone will say 'seat check' when they leave the room. I'll move in and take the seat. When the guy comes back, I'll say, 'I didn't hear you.'"
Almost two years into college, White is getting along superbly. He has a 3.2 grade-point average in economic management and is a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
The team wonders where it would be without him. The Bishops (11-8) have won eight of their nine games since White became a starter. He is averaging 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds, is shooting 40.5 percent and has 17 steals.
"Greg brings a lot of energy," senior forward Andrew Martin said. "He's a tough kid. He outrebounds and outworks people. I notice a lot more confidence in him this year."
These accomplishments wouldn't be possible, White said, had his parents, Richard and Cathe, not decided to raise him in the hearing world after his deafness was diagnosed at age 8 months. He was outfitted with a hearing aid at 9 months and enrolled in a private school when the family lived in Whittier, Calif.
"Everybody in our family is hearing and everybody we knew could hear, so we said Greg would remain in the hearing world," Mrs. White said. "If you don't begin oral training in a child's first years, he or she always will be behind. When he was an infant, I would be so verbal with everything. Greg has worked so hard to get this far. It's a credit to him."
Early on, the Whites were told that their son should be raised in the deaf community.
"A specialist gave us his card and said, 'Get back to me because your son is so deaf that he will never be able to talk,'" Mrs. White said. "I'd like to talk to that man now. There was such a big push at the time to enroll him in the deaf culture."
White's world opened when he underwent cochlear-implant surgery as a 14-year-old. Until then, sounds were muffled.
"Being able to hear distinct sounds was overwhelming the first months," he said. "I had never heard birds chirping or leaves rustling. There was something new to hear every day. I could hear people speak for the first time. I've been able to talk on the phone the last three years."
The cochlear implant has been knocked out during games. White will hand it to a teammate on the bench, or someone on the bench will retrieve it.
Neither hearing device works well when a crowd gets loud. Voices become distorted. This is a particular problem at home in Rickey Arena, where the high wooden ceiling can be almost like an echo chamber.
That's when teammates must communicate with White through hand signals and mouthing. During timeouts, DeWitt looks directly at White when speaking.
Few opponents and officials have picked up on White's hearing problems. He wears his hair long, partly to cover the hearing aid and coil and magnet.
White entered the deaf world for the first time last summer in winning a gold medal with the 21-and-under United States team in the World Deaf Basketball Championships in Lublin, Poland. He is scheduled to play for the 21-and-over U.S. team in the 2013 Deaf Olympics in Athens, Greece.
The only change was that White had to remove his hearing aid and outside implant so he had no competitive advantage.
"I had to learn sign language," White said. "Playing basketball with the deaf has been a great experience. But I'm glad I'm part of the hearing culture. I have my parents to thank for that."