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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004 11:25 pm

Grace about town 8-12-04

art1305
Don't drop the ball!

I'm sure I've mentioned my complete lack of competitive athletic skills, especially in sports involving balls. Throw a ball at me, and one of two things will happen -- I'll duck or you'll hit me in the head. At least when I go running, the only bad thing that happens is that I fall down -- and usually the bleeding stops after a while.

But this isn't to say I don't appreciate the athletic prowess of others. I applaud other people's lack of fear of balls hurtling toward them at warp speed. Volleyball is a particularly painful sport for me to think about: My deep psychological scars (not to mention countless concussions) from junior-high P.E. class continue to give me nightmares.

But this guy I know, Jerry Clark, is a wonder to behold at the volleyball. He spikes, he volleys, he knows how to get that ball over the net and spur his team on to victory. I watched Jerry and his teammates last Thursday night at the Four Seasons Sports Complex, and I was dazzled.

Jerry isn't your run-of-the-mill talented, athletic, cute, tall volleyball guy, however. Jerry is hard of hearing, and he's going to the Deaf Olympics this winter in Melbourne, Australia. He's one of just 11 deaf/hard-of-hearing athletes on the men's indoor volleyball team. The Deaf Olympics will be held Jan. 5-16, 2005.

Who knew there was a Deaf Olympics? Not me. Jerry is the only deaf/hard-of-hearing athlete in the central-Illinois area to represent the United States and participate in the Deaf Olympics. It's a huge boost for the city of Springfield to have an elite deaf/hard-of-hearing athlete competing in the Deaf Olympics.

Jerry started playing volleyball at Monmouth College and has been playing here in Springfield since he moved from Galesburg in 1992. He came to Springfield to work for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Jerry started out in the highly competitive sand-volleyball games at the Lake Marina, then began competing in the city volleyball leagues. To make the Deaf Olympics team, he had to try out twice -- first in February 2003 and then again last May.

In addition to practicing with competitive players here in Springfield, Jerry is faced with the task of raising money to cover airline flights, ground transportation, event fees, uniforms, food, and accommodations for the Deaf Olympics. If Jerry were as good at raising money as he is at volleyball, he'd be in great shape, money-wise. He has to raise $4,500 by this October.

He has some sponsors, including Sprint, the Illinois Telecommunications Access Corp., and Sikich Gardner & Co. LLP, but he's holding a raffle to raise the full amount. The raffle prizes weren't donated (they include a 42-inch plasma TV, a three-in-one combo TV, and a $100 gift certificate from Best Buy) -- Jerry bought them outright. So right now the raffle is in negative-balance territory.

Jerry says support from the deaf community has been great. He's gotten contributions from the Springfield Deaf Club and the Illinois Deaf & Hard of Hearing Commission. But clearly those of us who weren't aware of the Deaf Olympics need to get educated.

Lucky for us, Jerry told me all about it. The event, also known as Deaflympics, has been around since 1924. It's the premier international sporting event for deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes from all over the world. The 2005 Deaflympics will feature 15 different sports. Approximately 3,000 athletes from 80 countries will be competing in the 2005 Summer Deaflympic Games (they're called the Summer Games because it will be summer in Melbourne, where they'll be played).

OK, so here's the thing about Jerry and the money he's trying to raise -- I am going to take part in a great big money-raising event for a well-known charity in a couple of weeks. It's a national thing, and they obviously have tons of money and volunteers and stuff to rake in lots and lots of cash. Buckets of it. Washtubs of it. It's a good cause -- don't get me wrong -- but so is Jerry's opportunity to participate in the Deaf Olympics. So I say, let's all buy a raffle ticket from the guy. Are you with me? It's a measly five bucks for the chance to win great prizes, plus you're supporting a talented, all-around-good Springfield guy. Here's how to enter: Write out a check or money order payable to Jerry and mail it to this address: Jerry Clark, P.O. Box 9508, Springfield, IL 62791.

Half of each of your tickets will be mailed to you. The other half will be placed in the raffle box, from which winning tickets will be drawn at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16. The drawing will take place at the Four Seasons Sports Complex. You don't have to be present to win.

If you have questions, e-mail Jerry at Jerry007_99@yahoo.com.

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