That Hoy Moment

With the World Series underway, it's a given that something special will happen. Most likely, an unexpected hero or two will emerge from obscurity and create memories that will last for a lifetime.

In the Deaf world, it's no different. There's a World Series of Deaf baseball, too.

Every year, baseball and softball teams from Deaf schools all over the country gather for the annual Hoy Tournament. The tournament is in honor of William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy, a phenomenal Deaf athlete who played professional baseball from 1888-1902.

The Hoy Tournament features some of the best Deaf baseball and softball players in the nation. There's an exciting mix of rivalry and respect that you rarely see anywhere else. Teams compete hard for bragging rights on the field, yet at the same time they develop a lifelong bond that extends far beyond their high school years.

"When you play in the Hoy Tournament during your freshman year, it can be overwhelming to see so many new faces," said Arthur Hart, who played for the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C., and now attends the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on a football scholarship. "But by your junior year, it's like a family reunion."

Another thing that makes the Hoy Tournament so great is That Hoy Moment. It happens all the time. It could be a breathtaking play, a walk-off homerun, or an underdog winning the championship.

The 2016 tournament, however, caught everyone by surprise.

During the third place game, Texas School for the Deaf faced California School for the Deaf (Fremont). On the mound the whole way for TSD was Austin Sliva-Wynne, a senior with a blazing fastball and a ridiculously nasty curveball.

With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, TSD was cruising on its way to an 8-0 victory when the CSD coach called for a timeout. He approached the umpire and motioned for the TSD coach to join them. After a brief meeting between the coaches and umpire, the TSD coach walked over to the pitcher's mound and informed his players about what was going to happen next.

A Hoy Moment ensued.

Up to the plate stepped Peter Gopez, a Deaf student with special needs and member of the CSD baseball team.

Austin lobbed three pitches. Peter missed the first, connected with the second for a foul ball, and then missed the third. A dropped third strike put Peter on first base.

The next three pitches were wild pitches that allowed Peter to make his way around the bases. When Peter scored, he was congratulated not only by his own teammates, but by Austin and the TSD catcher as well. The crowd ate it up and gave Peter a well-earned round of applause.

This is not an "aw, look at those special Deaf ballplayers" article. Austin is a power pitcher who has attracted the attention of Division I scouts. And Peter isn't someone who popped up out of nowhere for one thrilling moment. He showed up at every practice and game for CSD because he loves baseball. That's dedication and commitment that's going to carry over into other areas of life, as his 3.75 GPA attests.

Austin, Peter, and their teammates are heroes because they showed us the value of Deaf schools. While the CSD team had long ago welcomed Peter onto their roster, you could see by the way TSD responded that they immediately welcomed him, too. They didn't care about special needs. They welcomed Peter because it was more like Hey kid, you're Deaf. You're one of us.

This is one of the biggest strengths a Deaf program has to offer, something that few mainstream schools are able to provide. The students know without a doubt that they belong.

There's a huge difference between "fitting in" and "belonging." The Hoy Tournament proves it every year.

At the same time, Austin and Peter accomplished something else. They added to the already strong legacy of William Hoy.

Hoy was the first Deaf baseball player to enjoy a long career in the pros. He played during a dark era for the Deaf community, what with the Milan Conference of 1880 and subsequent banning of sign language plunging Deaf education into decades of despair. Nonetheless, his positive spirit and drive to succeed during this difficult time was a beacon of hope for Deaf children.

Hoy is the Deaf community's Jackie Robinson. The Jackie Robinson Society itself has endorsed Hoy and has lent their support towards ongoing efforts to get him into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although we celebrate Hoy for being a trailblazer and a hero on the baseball diamond, his greatest contribution was--and still is--his ability to be a tremendous role model. Stories about his accomplishments have been passed along from generation to generation in the Deaf community.

More recently, an engaging children's book--The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin--is making the rounds at schools and libraries all over the country. To this very day, Hoy continues to be an inspiration.

And on that wonderful day at the 2016 Hoy Tournament, two more powerful role models emerged. For Austin and Peter, and for many more who will follow, the sky's the limit.