Thursday, April 26th, 2012
By Gary R. Rasberry
Parkway softball has built special bond with OSD
  When the two teams met for the first time, one could see the shyness between them.
For Parkway's softball team, it was a new experience in meeting the softball team from the Ohio School for the Deaf, where communication was done through sign language.  
The teams, however, shared the bond of softball.
In just a matter of two meetings and trading of letters, the two programs have grown close.
The Spartans' softball team has made two trips to the Grand Lake area. The first came two weeks ago when the Spartans visited Rockford to take part in a skills clinic with the Panthers. A week later, the Spartans made the trip to Minster as fans, rooting their new Parkway friends to victory.
Ross Leighner, coach for the Spartans, is the brother of Parkway's varsity assistant coach Shalyn Leighner.    "This is our girls' second year of softball," said Ross Leighner when the Spartans attended last Monday's Parkway-Minster softball game at Four Seasons Park. "We felt it was necessary to get some fundamentals and get some advice and leadership from another team, so we decided to pair up for a partnership, a buddy team, with my sister's team."
It was a chance for the Spartans, who play slow-pitch softball, to see the style of play that Parkway plays in fast pitch.
Once the plans were finalized to work out together, the two teams traded letters to each other as a way to break the ice.
Early on during the clinic, as players met their workout "buddies", there was shyness on both sides as the teams met face to face for the first time.
"I think we were all a little bit nervous," said Parkway's senior Peyton Heitkamp. "None of us have had an experience like that before. It was going to be a neat experience."
"It's two cultures coming together," said Megan Key, co-coach of the Spartans who also serves as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. "It's the first time they've ever met. ... Still a little bit intimidating. It's two very different worlds coming together."
But by the time the team dinner was in full swing, topics of discussion went away from softball and to topics that teenage girls discuss, be it vocally or by sign.
"By dinner time, they were talking about which celebrity was hot or not," said Key. "It was the whole, teenage girl hang-time. It was so good. They found they had the same interests. Really, it was unique because our girls come from all over the state. They live in Columbus during the week, but they go home to these far-away places. Some of the girls had horses, and that's very much the culture here, the agricultural culture, and they loved it. Just getting to know they are so similar, even though they're so different, is such a great benefit."
"They were able to teach us some of their sign language. That was real neat," said Panthers' outfielder Destinee Guggenbiller. "Now, we've been working on (signs) so we can have a conversation with them. Through the interpreters we can go back and forth. It's a great experience."
While at Minster, the Spartans had a chance to perform the National Anthem through American Sign Language following Parkway's 6-2 win over the Wildcats.
The Panthers were honored to have the Spartans' support.
"It was just such a neat experience, mostly outside the realm of softball," said Parkway's head coach Mark Esselstein. "After the clinic, we had a meal and took them on a tour of the school. It was great to see the camaraderie that developed in such a short time despite the communication barriers. Our kids are trying to figure out how to sign some things. It has been wonderful for the kids. I'm sure the OSD kids have enjoyed it."
Parkway returned the favor by traveling to Columbus to take part in a skills clinic, followed by dinner and a tour of the school.
"What was really neat was, when we were getting ready to go out to the bus, the OSD kids were lined up in front of the bus and one of the kids started signing," said Esselstein. "The translator was telling us how much they appreciated us taking the time to work with them, visit them and how much they value the friendship that had been formed. They were going to miss us and want this relationship to continue. Really, it got emotional for some of the kids.
"For having spent parts of three days with these guys, to see the relationships and bonds that were formed in that short amount of time, with the communication barriers that exist, was really neat to see."
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