Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deaf high school baseball player

Loud and clear: Hinsdale South junior making noise in
spite of hearing loss

Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: April 28, 1995
Page: 1
Section: Sports Extra (High School)
The theory is that when one sense fails or has never been available, another is more keen. Chris Furzland, who has been deaf since birth, has two of these ultra-sensitivities - his hawk-like vision and his baseball instinct. He's also got an inner voice he hears quite clearly, and a compassion for fellow hearing-impaired people who are discouraged by their handicap.

"Hearing means nothing," says Furzland, Hinsdale South's promising junior left-fielder who is hitting .333 with 10 RBI. "If I can hear or can't hear, I still play the same."

Actually, in a sport partially defined by its top-secret sign language, Furzland is in his element. First-year Hornets coach Paul Hoel needed only to switch a couple of verbal signals to accomodate Furzland.

"My question was, what were we gonna do to make it the same for him?" Hoel says. "How do I change practice? We really didn't have to."

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Furzland is limited by position only; he has a right-field arm, but plays in left because the relay-throw angles to third and home are so similar, thereby lessening the effects of his lack of communication with the cut-off men.

Indeed, considering that Furzland can't gauge fly balls by the sound of contact, he fields his position better than most.

"The thing that I think would hurt him the most is the crack of the bat," Hoel says. "But he judges the flight of the ball so well, he hasn't misjudged but one or two balls, and we've got hearing kids who have misjudged a lot more than that.

"If I put earplugs on and tried to play a fly ball, I would be lost. We should make them all do it. That's unbelievable that he never breaks the wrong way. On a liner, he comes in and gets it, or a ball over his head, he's back right away. He never hesitates."

Similarly, Furzland's handicap improves his hitting, and not just because he's immune to noisy distractions. When the Hornets take batting practice from a humming pitching machine, Furzland is the only one in a game situation.

"Most guys can hear (the ball) going through the machine," Hoel says. "He just reacts to the ball, so he's got a real short, quick swing. He's seeing the ball and he's hittin' it, which is what you have to do in a game."

Furzland is an athlete, not only a baseball player. As a freshman, he won the West Suburban Gold Conference individual frosh-soph golf title. He played basketball until last year and plays with a hearing-impaired volleyball team. He quit golf and basketball to concentrate on baseball, and with good reason.

Including a sophomore year in which he reeled off a 24-game hitting streak, Furzland has been such a steady hitter that his junior teammates were surprised at his current batting average.

"Actually, I didn't know he was doing this good," says junior Mike Loganbill. "We're used to seeing him get on all the time. He says that he hasn't been doing as well as he thought he would and I can see that. I thought he'd be doing a little better, but he's still doing well."

So, the Hornets not only accept Furzland, they expect a high level of play from him. The comfort level stems partly from the players' familiarity not only with Furzland, but with hearing-impaired students in general.

The Darien school currently has 45 kids in its 29-year-old program, and Furzland is simply the best baseball player of the group. From daily interaction, Hinsdale South students have learned to more easily communicate with their hearing-impaired schoolmates.

It's a bonus that Furzland is a highly-skilled lip-reader. When he pitches - just 1 2/3 innings so far, though that will increase in the summer - Furzland can decipher speech in the dugout.

Furzland had little problem communicating as a Little Leaguer because his father Jim was his coach. There was some alienation from some players, however - a problem which dissolved when he entered high school.

Furzland has thrived at Hinsdale South, where he is viewed by fellow hearing-impaired students as something of a "guru," as Hoel puts it.

Furzland enjoys being an example of fearlessness.

"I love it," he says. "I have many deaf friends who think they can't do things because of their deafness. I try to encourage them."

Hearing-impaired instructor Nancy Campbell, who interpreted the interview of Furzland for this story, says the frustration with communication barriers is most often the drain on the deaf's motivation.

"They have such a hard time getting their point across - maybe they don't speech-read or maybe the person doesn't make it easy to speech-read," Campbell says. "There's different degrees of ability to speech-read people - some people talk like this, some people have big mustaches - it's tough, you don't know what you're gonna run into. So sometimes people tend to back away from that."

Furzland tends to step forward with a sharpened sense of community to help those a little more timid.

"I tell them deaf people are no different than hearing people," Furzland says. "The only difference is, we can't hear. Don't let your deafness stop you from your goals.

"Go for it."
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