Kai Miller held a softball in her hand, ready to deliver a pitch for the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD) team.
Only this time, on Saturday, May 17, the sophomore from Scott Township was pitching at the Jessup Youth Sports Complex in front of family and friends during the Scranton School for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children’s fourth annual softball tournament.
A total of seven teams — four boys’ and three girls’ squads — came to the three-field complex for a day of fun and competition. For the likes of Miller, it was a homecoming of sorts as some of the WPSD players attended the Scranton School, which is for children up to the eighth grade.
“I feel a great sense of pride when I play here,” Miller said through interpreter Mary Ann Stefko. “I feel so much support. A lot of people planned to come see me play: my brother, sisters, aunts, uncles, dad, grandma.”
The event has provided local WPSD students the opportunity to play their sport against fellow schools for the deaf, giving them a shared experience.
“This is the fourth year that we (SSDHHC) have hosted in collaboration with the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf,” said Jon Konzelman, the assistant to the principal at SSDHHC who also handles public relations duties there. “It’s great to have some of our former students here.”
Miller, who led the WPSD to a successful title defense in the girls bracket, appreciated the ability to play so close to home.
“It feels great to have so much support,” Miller said. “I’m so excited to play here.”
“The kids get a chance to play a sport in front of their parents,” Konzelman said. “It’s also great that they get to meet kids from other parts of the country.”
In addition to the WPSD, which is located in Pittsburgh and also defended its title in the boys bracket, three other schools brought teams this year: the New Jersey School for the Deaf from Ewing Township, near Trenton; the American School for the Deaf based in Hartford, Ct.; and the Lexington School for the Deaf, which is near New York City in Jackson Heights. The Ohio School for the Deaf, which has played in the event before, was set to participate but dropped out just days before this year’s event.
This was the second time the Jessup complex has hosted the event, which also has been held at Keystone College and was split another year between Keystone and Baptist Bible College.
“It also gives them a chance to come back to their home region,” Konzelman said.
Miller used the updated chance to perform in front of her family and friends from a new position, after playing elsewhere on the team in the past.
“I started playing when I was 13 or 14 years old,” Miller said. “I played a variety of positions last year but I’ve earned the pitcher position now.”
The tournament modifies some rules that help speed up the slow-pitch event, as every batter begins with a 1 ball-1 strike count and is allowed one foul ball, enabling the teams to get their games done within the 50-minute time limit. That still left plenty of time for acrobatic defensive plays, long home runs that soared over the 200-ft. signs on the outfield fences, hustle and, most of all, fun.
“It’s great for the kids to get together,” Konzelman said. “We usually have a good turnout of people to watch the kids play.”
The schools are bused to the SSDHHC on Friday and return home on Sunday, leaving a long time for the kids to get to know one another and share their common experiences, including a common love of softball.
Busses are something Miller has adjusted to over the past few years, as Scranton-area students at WPSD follow the same routine, coming back to the area on Fridays and returning to the Pittsburgh-area school on Sundays.
“At first it was a little uncomfortable, but now I’m used to it,” Miller said. “We watch movies, I talk with my friends and I listen to my music. I’m used to it.”
Miller has gotten accustomed to a lot of changes since going on to WSPD after her time at SSDHHC and finds being on both sides of state does have its advantages.
“I miss home when I’m at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, but when I’m home, I miss school,” she said.
Sometimes, Miller gets to have the best of both worlds. Saturday was one of those days.