April 2017 The Daily News
Sometimes the noise in the gym is overbearing with the crowd yelling, student sections chanting and the band playing at full volume. But when Connor Ortman’s earpiece falls out, there is no volume for him. Despite being on the basketball court in the middle of all the noise, his world is total silence. The noise comes back as he pushes his cochlear implant back in while running back down the basketball court on defence. Born completely deaf, Ortman, Norway’s dominant junior guard, was named this year’s recipient of the Gil Heard Courageous Athlete Award. The award is given to UP athletes who have overcome disabilities or hardship through sports. Through his play on the court, Ortman has made one thing loud and clear: his hearing impairment hasn’t hindered his athletic ability.
Ortman was diagnosed with the hearing impairment at two years old. The cochlear implant gives him the gift of hearing, but it doesn’t completely solve his impairment. The challenge to communicate has made him an expert lip-reader, even in the middle of close, chaotic basketball games.
Ortman has played basketball since second grade and has had pretty much the same teammates since then, including his best friend Josh Plante.
“Me and JP have been best friends since Kindergarten. Sometimes I can hear coach Leiker in the game and sometimes it’s so loud he’ll have JP tell me what to do,” Ortman said. “Having someone like JP who understands what I have to go through and what I’ve had to deal with, it’s nice for JP to have to do that for me, and for Coach Leiker.
“The most challenging thing about it is that it always comes off every now and then, just going for rebounds or taking a shot, all that,” Ortman said of the cochlear implant. “Thanks to my parents — my parents have been there ever since I found out I was deaf. We decided I should wear a headband and see if it would help (hold the implant in place). Thanks to Coach (Ben) Leiker, Coach (Jeff) Gallino and all the other coaches I’ve had and to my teammates I’ve had, I just couldn’t do it without them.”
Leiker, Norway’s varsity basketball coach, said despite the hearing impairment, Ortman is the team’s leader. “He’s never lived without it so I don’t think he knows any different. He had a great season this year,” Leiker said. “We really needed him to score. He rebounded well. He led us in both rebounding and scoring and field goal percentage. He can play outside and inside.”
When Connor heard sound for the first time, at about three years old, the world became his playground. “It was quite a … just like all the YouTube videos, their eyes get large,” Amy said of Connor’s first moment hearing sound. “I do remember him running around the house, flushing toilets and turning on faucets. He never knew that the rain made noise or that the leaves blowing in the wind made noise. It was a while of auditory discoveries after that.” Connor has a strong bond with his 11-year-old brother Alex, because they both have the same hearing impairment. Alex, whom Steve said is a “pretty good athlete,” wears the same cochlear implant. “I just hope everything goes well for him. I know he can do a lot of great things,” Connor said. “I’m just proud to be a big brother for him and be a role model for him.”