Laura Cleary looks and plays like the typical Eleanor Roosevelt High School softball athlete. But when the 13-year-old left fielder communicates with her teammates and coach, she uses her hands and facial expressions instead of her voice.
Cleary, deaf since birth, has not let her handicap hinder he athletic efforts. The only deaf student playing at a hearing school in Prince George's County, Cleary also competes on two county basketball teams, the Southland Express and the Bowie BOYS AND girls Club team as a point guard, and plays winger for the Mustangs, a select soccer team in Bowie.
"I love all sports," Cleary said in an interview in which her mother Jean interpreted. "I would love to play in the (deaf) Olympics some day. It's a hard decision, but I guess my favorite sport is soccer because I've been playing for it for six years.
"But softball is the most important sport because I play on the school team. I like playing on the school team because I get to meet more kids in school, and the people are real nice here. Sometimes I teach them sign language and they tell me jokes."
Cleary had not played softball for two years, but she decided to try out for the Roosevelt squad this season. It may turn out to be her best idea all year.
"Ever since she has been on this team she seems to be doing things with an extra ummph," said Tim Cleary, her father. "When her mother tells her she needs more rest (because of her other atheltic endeavors) she hits the sack. And she has never done this for anything else. She's also sitting at the lunch table with the other girls on the team."
"Sports has helped her in adjusting to the hearing world," said Jean Cleary. "Sports serves as a release for the frustrations she has with communication."
Although most individuals with a hearing impairment have difficulties with balance and depth perception, Cleary's deafness, which is caused by nerves, does not affect her that way. Her biggest problem at Roosevelt is trying to understand the coach, Robert Dredger.
"You misss out when he talks to the team but I just don't worry about it." Cleary said. "I just try to play well."
Cleary's competitiveness does not end with softball practice. She attends classes with the hearing students at Roosevelt, with the help of an interpretor, and carries a 3.6 grade-point average.
Although Cleary is a unique athlete in Prince George's County, she is not the only deaf competitor in the Cleary household. Her older brother Dave, 16, a basketball player at Model School for the Deaf, also has been deaf since birth.
"He's aggressive and enjoys sports, but he doesn't seem to have the same enthusiasm as Laura," said Jean Cleary. "They have both done well. We learned that Dave was deaf when he was 18 months old and you just have to accept it. It (the deafness) has broadened our knowledge, but we treat them just like everyone else."