Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Deafness no excuse for OSU's Hall

St. Rita product set for Ohio Am

By Rusty Miller
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Unlike many golfers who complain about screaming jets, chirping birds and coughing fans, Kevin Hall is oblivious to such distractions.

        Deaf since a bout with meningitis when he was 2, Hall encounters more problems when he leaves the course. Kevin and his family have not only dealt with his deafness but say they have been strengthened by it.

        “We could have lost him. Since we didn't lose him, we could deal with the rest,” said Hall's father, Percy.

        Kevin Hall has better than a 3.0 grade-point average at Ohio State and takes an interpreter with him to every class. He also is a two-year letterwinner and one of the most popular players on the golf team.

        “He has such a tough day to go to class, and he has to have someone go with him, then he comes in here and goes about his business,” Buckeyes teammate Justin Collins said. “He always has a smile on his face. He appreciates everything that he has and every chance he gets.

        “Sometimes, I get frustrated or get mad out on the course. If I'm playing with Kevin, no matter how he's doing, he's just happy to be playing.”

        Hall figures to be one of the top players this week at the 96th Ohio Amateur golf championship at Sylvania Country Club.

        He communicates by sign language, computers and a special pager. He answered questions by typing in rapid bursts on a laptop computer, erasing mistakes and choosing just the right word as he hammered away at the keys.

        “My parents taught me to be positive no matter what because I am a deaf person, and I will make it in life,” Hall typed. “If I ever turned negative, that's the end of my road.”

        Hall's father is a semi-retired meat cutter, his mother works for a truck rental agency and his older sister is married and a nurse in Cincinnati, where Hall attended St. Rita School for the Deaf and played on the Winton Woods golf team. The family never babied the baby of the group.

        “The love that he has around him — my wife, myself, his sister and his friends — he doesn't get down on himself in terms of worrying about being deaf,” Hall's father said. “He said to me once, "You don't want me to be deaf, do you?' I said, "No, I don't want you to be deaf, but you are. We have to deal with that.' He looked at me and said, "Life is tough, isn't it?' ”

        Another Ohio State teammate, Jason Oien, shakes his head as he talks about Kevin.

        “I played a round with Kevin yesterday in a pouring rain,” he said. “Kevin was playing terrible. Yet he's still having fun, laughing and joking around. That kind of rubs off on some people, especially when things aren't going quite as well as you might have hoped.”

        Kevin is one of the top players for the Buckeyes, perennially one of the top teams in the Big Ten and the nation. Veteran coach Jim Brown — never mistaken for a soft touch — makes it clear that Kevin is no charity case. Kevin had the second-best scoring average on the team a year ago as a freshman. Even though he fell back to sixth as a sophomore, he still has a world of potential.

        “He's going to be good,” said Brown, who has coached tour veterans John Cook, Joey Sindelar, Chris Perry, Ted Tryba and Gary Nicklaus in his 29 years in charge of the Ohio State program. “He's had a tough year. With success comes expectation. He had such a great year coming in last season, and then he's expected to do more. Sometimes it just doesn't happen.”

        Brown said he never questioned Kevin's ability to deal with his deafness when he recruited him.

        “No, I just looked at the scores,” Brown said. “We knew we had the support system here for him.”

        The Halls discovered that Kevin was deaf when he was still in the hospital recovering from the meningitis. One day as the toddler was pushing a plastic shopping cart around the halls of the hospital, Percy popped a balloon a few feet behind him.

        Kevin never blinked.

        A family friend took Kevin golfing when he was 9 and within a year he was contending for junior tournament titles. While attending St. Rita School for the Deaf, he played golf at Cincinnati's Winton Woods High School where he was a four-year letterwinner and was all-state as a senior.

        Kevin became the first private school athlete to participate in public-school athletics at Winton Woods. His coach there, Tim Tilton, remembers the time he pointed out that his son owned many of the golf records.

        “Kevin smiled as he took his hands and made a motion as if he were breaking a stick in half,” Tilton said. “That was his way of telling me he planned on breaking my son's records.”

        His proud father believes that Kevin can make it as a pro golfer if he pursues it.

        “I want to become a sports writer if I can't make it out on the tour. I was taught my whole life to always have something to back up the first plan and this is my backup.”

        “He's the nicest kid in the world,” OSU coach Jim Brown said.


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