Group by group, with flying discs gripped in their fingers, the youngsters fixed their eyes on the hands of Shane Bernard.
Bernard, a sophomore at John Ehret High School in Marrero, explained the rules of the flying disc throw competition without uttering a syllable. And when he finished, those competing answered that they understood the rules by signing the word “yes” and smiling from ear to ear.
On April 4, about 150 hearing-impaired students from across the greater New Orleans area participated in the 31st annual Deaf Olympics sponsored by the Metairie Rotary Club. Held at Pontiff Playground in Old Metairie, students participated in a number of events including track and field, ball toss, an obstacle course and a flying disc throwing contest.
“The Deaf Olympics is a wonderful opportunity for these youngsters to have some fun,” said Michael Martin, chairman of the event and president-elect of Metairie Rotary. “Over the years, friendships have been made between these kids who attend so many different schools. So this program is also a chance for them to see those friends again they don’t get to see very often.
“Because of their hearing loss, many of these students may feel isolated in some way. These games give them a chance to compete, a chance they may not have had before.”
Bernard was one of several high school and college students who volunteered at the event.
“I wanted to be here so that those who are hearing impaired can see that they can do the same things that those who can hear are able to do,” said Bernard, a member of Ehret’s sign language club. “My girlfriend is hard of hearing, so this was a chance to for me to also learn more about signing from those who use it in their life every day.”
This was Krysti DeSoto’s first year attending the Deaf Olympics. A student at Delgado Community College, she is working toward her associate of arts degree in American Sign Language Interpreting.
“Being here today gives me a chance not only to improve my sign language skills but to help, in some small way, those who are hearing impaired,” said DeSoto, who lives in Covington. “I have found that people with disabilities sometimes feel displaced. I hope that after today, those in the deaf community will feel a sense of camaraderie and that feeling of not being included because of their disability will change.”
Anthony Aramburo, an associate professor in the language department at Xavier University in New Orleans, has been a volunteer with the Deaf Olympics since 1982.
“I look forward to this event each and every year,” Aramburo said. “There are very few athletic opportunities such as this for the hearing impaired to participate in fully. It’s a fun event and not only do the students love it but so do the volunteers.
“It is wonderful to see how these kids have grown from year to year, not just physically but emotionally as well. I am proud of them when I see how they have progressed in their learning and in their social skills. They really are an inspiration to me.”