Deaf Pride Games bring students together, reignite friendships

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 9:40 pm on Friday, May 10, 2013

Interpreter Tonya Davis, of the Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District, left, dances with St. Louis High School senior Rory Vanhorn, 18, during the annual Deaf Pride Games at Montcalm Community College. — Daily News/Cory Smith


SIDNEY — Todd Wells of Stanton makes a living as a local disc jockey, playing music at numerous parties and weddings throughout the year.

One might wonder then, why his favorite gig year after year is one where he blasts his music at full volume for an audience of students who can’t hear a single note or lyric.

Enter Friday’s annual Deaf Pride Games at Montcalm Community College, where Wells set up his equipment and cranked the volume to levels that shook the college.

“The looks on the kids’ faces, with them smiling and dancing around, that’s the ultimate compliment,” said Wells as deaf students danced and jumped to the beat of the music. “I do all sorts of parties and weddings, but people at those events take their hearing for granted. These kids do not take that for granted, it’s a more meaningful scenario and its very exciting to be a part of it.”

Students attending the annual Deaf Pride Games at Montcalm Community College Friday participated in a number of games and activities to promote communication and friendship between the students. — Daily News/Cory Smith

According to Wells, the students who attend the annual Deaf Pride Games event recognize songs based on the vibrations they feel on the floor and in the air, hence he plays the music at such a loud volume.

Wells places his massive speakers on the floor so younger students and children can sit and stand atop them, feeling every beat and vibration emitted from his equipment.

Wells said his goal is to provide an environment that best emulates what being able to hear the actual songs would be like.

“I try figure out a way around the fact that they can’t hear, to try to get them to progressively feel the beat,” he said. “I put the speakers on the floor so when the kids are little, they can sit on the speakers and feel the beat throughout their entire body. Once they get that rhythm into their body, into their soul, they tend to recognize and feel vibrations much faster.”

Kyla Fuller, 4, of Portland, who is 85 percent deaf, smiles and points while sitting atop a large speaker so she can feel the vibrations from music being played Friday at the annual Deaf Pride Games at Montcalm Community College. — Daily News/Cory Smith

According to Ellie Cecil, an educational interpreter with the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District (MAISD), the music and vibrations provided by Wells were just one part of many activities that were provided for 60 students who attended Friday’s event from 12 school districts along with more than 60 additional chaperones, interpreters and family members.

Along with use of the college pool for swimming and diving, students participated in games such as team kickball and other team-building related games and exercises, with prizes awarded at the end of the day.

“The games help because deaf kids really bond together,” Cecil said. “The younger ones really look up to the older ones and this gave them an opportunity to work together in a multi-age setting.”

Cecil said the deaf students attending this year’s Deaf Pride Games consider it a holiday, as it is one of the few days a year that so many other students who are also deaf come together and form lasting friendships.

“It’s really neat to see them come together because so often they are the only deaf person in a classroom setting and there is a language barrier between them and other students,” she said. “Here I can sit back and see all of the kids talking to each other. They don’t have to rely on me to deliver a message. It’s great to give these kids the opportunity to have fun with their friends from across the state.”

Jeffrey Main, 19, of Edmore, bottom right, carries Jeremiah Zacharka, 9, of Crystal, bottom right, and Arabella Huntoon, 8, of Blanchard, top, on his back while playing in the pool Friday afternoon during the annual Deaf Pride Games at Montcalm Community College. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Central Montcalm teacher for the deaf Diane Harris-Basom has helped organize Deaf Pride Day since its inaugural event in 1994.

Since that time, Deaf Pride Day has expanded to include the annual Deaf Pride Games, which Harris-Basom said has been of critical importance to students on a yearly basis.

“The thing that I enjoy most is seeing so many students from across the state of Michigan come together again,” she said. “It is for them as if time has stood still. Those connections, in the sense of deaf pride, are so important to them, and I’m just happy we are able to provide this opportunity and environment for them.”

For 18-year-old St. Louis High School senior Rory Vanhorn, this year’s Deaf Pride Games event was bittersweet, as it will be her last after she graduates this spring.

“It was my last year to come here and I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid,” she said. “I love coming here to socialize. I’m really going to miss it.”

Deaf students and interpreters from several school districts dance and use sign language to sing the lyrics to a song being played Friday at the annual Deaf Pride Games at Montcalm Community College. — Daily News/Cory Smith

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