SIDNEY — William Fay can’t always understand his younger brother Jeremiah Zacharda, but days like Deaf Pride Games remove the stress.
Fay, 15, has spent the last seven years with the rest of his family learning sign language, because when Zacharda, now 10, was 3 years old, it was discovered that he was deaf.
The adjustment wasn’t easy for the family, but Fay said the struggles to communicate have only brought him and his brother closer together.
“He’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to us, he brings so much happiness to the family.” Fay said. “It’s a little bit stressful, sometimes he signs so fast we can’t understand what he’s saying. We learn time over time how to understand. We try to help him as best as we can with things like homework.”
Fay said Deaf Pride Games, an event that brings together deaf students from across the state every spring at Montcalm Community College, places his brother in an environment where no interpreters are needed, where he can play and communicate with other children without any stress or frustration.
“This day, it brings hope,” he said. “You see how much people care about the deaf community. Sometimes people don’t understand what they don’t know, and then they block it out. To see this many people here, it’s an eye opener.”
Fay and Zacharda were among 180 people who attended Friday’s event at MCC’s Sidney campus, including 86 deaf students.
Students from school districts as far away as Van Buren and Calhoun counties came together to play team-building games, cheering each other on in support.
Educational interpreter Ellisha Cecil described Deaf Pride Games as a day when kids come from all over the state from different deaf education programs to have fun.
“It allows them to be in an environment with no boundaries,” she said. “They don’t need an interpreter and can all speak the same language.”
Cecil said many of the students come from public schools and some are the only deaf child in their school. Deaf Pride Games gives them an opportunity to be in an environment where they can communicate freely without an interpreter.
According to Cecil, Friday’s event saw the largest turnout in several years.
“We focused on team building games,” she said. “Deaf kids are very bonding with each other. The deaf world is a separate culture. They come here year after year and many of them have become friends and continue to be friends.”
Deaf education teacher Nikoma Lipka of TSN Middle School in St. Louis said the annual trip for Deaf Pride Games in the spring, and also for Deaf Pride Day in the fall, is well worth the long drive for the students.
“It’s something that our kids look forward to,” she said. “It’s nice to get out and see the other kids, to be reunited. Even though they are in different places, from different schools, they still have things in common. They only see each other two days a year, but their bonds are incredibly close.”
For other students, Deaf Pride Games is chance to lead younger students.
Central Montcalm High School senior Jeffrey Main, 20, a deaf student, said he has been coming to the deaf pride events for as long as he can remember and will continue to go well into the future.
“Oh, I’m not going to stop coming, I’m going to continue to keep coming,” he said. “It’s friendly, it’s peaceful, I know I’m a role model to the younger kids and it’s fun.”
Main said he used to be shy, rarely talked with other children, but Deaf Pride Games encouraged him to socialize with other students who he could easily communicate with.
“I’ve got more experience now, I’m a leader now,” he said. “It’s all about making it fun for the younger kids now, to inspire their hearts with happiness. That’s very important to me.”