Curtis Pride has made his decision. The All-Met soccer player of the year from Kennedy High School -- possibly the best high school player in the country -- has decided to give up soccer. He's going to play basketball in college.
The challenge will be great because Pride's basketball skills aren't nearly as advanced as his soccer skills. But he has met challenges before. He is deaf.
Having a handicap has never really slowed Pride. He plays three sports at Kennedy -- soccer, basketball and baseball. As a four-year starter on the varsity soccer team, he scored 68 goals. His team lost just one regular-season game during that span.
Now, Pride is choosing to leave soccer behind, as he has so many defenders in the open field. He will attend William and Mary next fall on a basketball scholarship.
"Basketball is a more exciting sport in college," said Pride. "I love the challenge."
In basketball, his major honor was being named to an all-league team last year. In contrast, he is a two-time All-Met performer in soccer. The international soccer community became aware of Pride when he played with the U.S. junior national team in China last summer.
"China gave him instant recognition," said Jeff Schultz, Kennedy's soccer coach. "And with that, the word of Angus McAlpine, who is national coach, meant a tremendous amount, as well."
Pride completed the trip by scoring both goals for his team in a 2-1 victory over Bolivia in front of 70,000 fans. Pride could barely hear the noise. He had shut off his hearing aids.
Pride wears a hearing aid on each ear. Without the aids, he can only hear sounds above 95 decibels. "Which is like a motorcycle about eight feet away revving up," said his father, John Pride. Persons with normal hearing can hear sounds at a level of about 35 decibels.
Even with the hearing aids, Pride must work to understand what is being said. His deafness is described as a "sensory neural" hearing loss. The sound waves reach his brain but are garbled between the ear and the point at which they are normally interpreted.
"That's opposed to a conductive loss," his father said. "A conductive hearing loss is when the sound waves cannot get to the brain."
So Pride hears sounds, but he must match them to lip movements. He plays a guessing game to figure out each word. "It's like trying to learn a foreign language," he said. He does it with the same degree of success he has on the athletic field. He has no difficulty communicating orally. He also has no difficulty in the classroom; he has a 3.6 grade-point average.
Pride is successful on the basketball court because of his athletic ability -- his strength, his quickness and his speed. He is 6 feet and 192 pounds, with "the most unbelievably muscular body you've ever seen," said Shultz. "And he has never touched a weight. It's just natural. Just massive muscles."
Said Keith Tabatznik, the Georgetown soccer coach: "Success mixes some kids up. With Curt, you can tell he's a great kid and that he's handled it real well."
Those are nice words from a disappointed coach. Tabatznik failed to recruit Pride after considerable effort. He even approached the Georgetown basketball coaches about Pride. Similarly, Bruce Arena, the soccer coach at Virginia, offered Pride a scholarship in his sport and went to see Terry Holland, asking him to consider Pride for the Cavaliers' basketball team, too.
John Thompson never quite came around. Holland said he eventually offered Pride an opportunity to be a part of the team as a walk-on. But it didn't come soon enough. So Pride signed a letter of intent to play basketball at William and Mary.
Pride has been a fine, although not startling, performer on the basketball court. As a junior, he averaged 17 points per game. This year, he is averaging 21 points and is the 11th-leading scorer in the Washington area. But his father, who played basketball at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, said his son's real talents are not always reflected in the box score. He points toward Curtis' defense, his passing and his court sense.
Last summer, when Pride was at a basketball camp in Indiana, Pa., he was involved in an intense game. His coach decided to use two defenders to trap an opposing guard in the back court. Pride volunteered to do it himself. He kept the guard bottled up in the back court for 10 seconds, forcing a violation.
This season, when Kennedy presses, Pride is the first man opponents encounter. "With his incredible speed, we play a lot more gambling defense," said Dennis Drown, Kennedy's basketball coach. "He gets a lot of steals. We play him in the front of the press defensively. Usually, if he doesn't get a steal, his pressure is the reason they make a bad pass."
On offense, Pride is a wing guard. His points come because of his quickness. "He's more patient than he used to be," Drown said. "He used to think he had to score or make something happen every time he touched the ball.
"His skills have really blossomed, particularly as a shooter."
Many who have watched Pride think he will continue to develop. Summers spent playing baseball and soccer left little time for developing basketball skills.
Said Barry Parkhill, who will coach him at William and Mary: "I look at it this way. In the last several years, he's played soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. Now, he can channel his energies into basketball . . . "
Parkhill said he expects Pride to contribute immediately. "Our starting point guard, Scott Coval, is a senior," he said. "Our priority is bringing in a point guard. He's the type of athlete we have never really had at the position. He's very quick, very fast, extremely strong, has good court sense and is very unselfish."
Pride is confident he could have played basketball for Virginia or Georgetown. But he chose William and Mary for another reason.
As part of a program that accommodates handicapped students, William and Mary has promised to provide Pride with an interpreter -- someone to recite lectures to him -- so he can read lips, according to Carol Hardy, associate dean of student affairs in charge of handicapped student services.
Hardy said the university also will provide him with a notetaker so he can watch the professors. "Professors will be aware of his presence and know to face him when they are lecturing," Hardy said. The college will make other accommodations. He will have access to a word processor and the foreign language requirement will be waived. "Not because he's Curtis Pride," Hardy said, "but because he's a handicapped student."
The question of why one of the top soccer players in the country is giving up the sport still puzzles a lot of soccer coaches.
Pride said that the lack of a professional outdoor league in this country weighed in his decision to give up the sport.
"It's almost sad that he's giving it up," Arena said. "If he would have developed into a great soccer player, we don't know.
"His decision also says a lot about the state of professional soccer in this country. If the pro game is going to make it here, it needs the black athlete."
Said Pride: "I like playing basketball because it's nonstop action. You run all over the court . . . . I'd like to be a professional athlete, maybe a professional baseball player."
For now, the switch from soccer to basketball is challenge enough.