By Holly Shoun

My husband and I were pleasantly surprised when we sat down in the stadium at a high school football game beside an older gentleman with a cochlear implant. Our implanted son, Parker, attends the high school and it turns out the older gentleman we sat with is the father of the school’s Athletic Director. We were all there to cheer on the Wildcats. And from then on our families were connected.

Parker loves sports. It is a place he has found success, respect and confidence. He plays football, basketball, and lacrosse for the Wildcats. And anytime the Athletic Director sees Parker around the high school campus, he reaches out to him with kind and supportive words.

It turns out the Athletic Director’s family had another connection to cochlear implants. They are friends with a young family that includes a 5 year old cochlear implant recipient.

The Athletic Director arranged for the 5 year old boy to come to one of Parker’s basketball games and be an honorary Wildcat team member. It was a meaningful experience from many perspectives. The honorary player got to wear a jersey, to sit on the bench with the big boys, and to go through the “good game” line at the end of the game. For Parker, he embraced his position as role model— protective, proud and confident. The Athletic Director’s father came to show his support and talk about the latest CI technology. I really enjoyed meeting the other CI mom. However, for me, the most special part was watching Parker’s teammates, teenage boys that my son so strongly craves acceptance from, that seemed just a little more inclusive and tolerant that day. I felt like the 5 year old Wildcat may have offered the teenagers a moment to consider what it may have been like for Parker growing up with hearing loss.

We are so grateful for sports and cochlear implants bringing all of us together. But the true credit goes to kind people willing to go out of their way, like the Athletic Director and his family, to help others. My greatest hope for my deaf son is to feel like he belongs. And, in this moment, he did.

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