A Story Worth Hearing
April 2, 2004
On a given day, if you were to pass Kevin Hall walking on the street or on campus, you would probably be facing a smile, a wave, maybe even a handshake.
Competing alongside the Ohio State senior at a weekend golf tournament or a casual round on the Scarlet Course in Columbus you would be facing a fierce competitor, a level of determination so high at which many cannot comprehend.
All he asks in return? No words necessary. Just a smile will do.
Hall, who is deaf, lost what most people take for granted on a daily basis, and has been fighting to succeed in his greatest challenge since he was born. His story will touch and inspire you, but not nearly as much as if you get the opportunity to meet him or see him play.
Mark Twain once penned, "Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."
Kevin Hall epitomizes kindness with the love and passion for life that he displays.
Blessed with a second chance to live - Hall's story is most definitely one worth hearing.
Two Ultimatums: "I die or I become a vegetable"
On September 24, 1982, Kevin Michael Hall was born to parents Percy and Jackie. Not long thereafter, he became ill and was diagnosed with H-flu meningitis. While Hall was recovering in the hospital, the 2-year-old toddler was pushing a plastic shopping cart in the hallway, when his father popped a balloon a few feet behind him.
He didn't hear a thing. The sickness had taken his ability to hear.
There is not much that Hall remembers about the disease, except that it came swiftly and was a shock to his family. In fact, deafness wasn't even deemed a consequence at first.
"It almost took my life, but instead it just took my hearing," he types. "My deafness wasn't even supposed to happen - the doctors gave my parents two ultimatums: I die or I become a vegetable. It is truly a blessing that not only did I become deaf, but I was given a second chance at life."
Hall talks about how his deafness "shook his parents to the core" at the beginning, but notes that everything he has gone through in his life as been with the support of his family.
"My parents were and still are big supporters of me. In everything they do, they do for me. They make sure I had a better life than they had growing up. They made a promise to raise me as a normal kid, something they have kept to this day and will continue to do so. They have pushed me to be the best I can be. I have never seen two people with a love as strong for their son as my parents. No matter what happens, they will always be at my side."
From his parents' support and advice through the years, Hall grew up knowing that he was a special person with several different talents. He was told that his hearing was damaged but his heart wasn't, and to never let anyone change that. But, at the same time, he also knew just about every little thing in life was not going to be easy.
"You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours"
Hall will be the first to admit that he is a very demanding student. He's not just demanding of his performance in the classroom, but of his teachers as well. Some quick advice to the professors in Kevin's last semester: don't treat him like a person with a disability. No special favors. No extended deadlines. No leniency. Period.
That attitude has stayed with him since adolescence where he attended St. Rita School for the Deaf and played golf for Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"Teachers knew not to come in to class and slack off. They had a job to do and that was to educate me and the other students," he recalls of his high school days. "It's a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' relationship. I would call them out if they slacked off and they would do the same to me."
At St. Rita, he was a four-year letterwinner, a state qualifier, and an All-Ohio honoree as a senior. He notes that the support shown to him by St. Rita when he received a scholarship to play golf at Ohio State was unbelievable.
"They wanted me to leave St. Rita a better person than when I first came in. As an athlete, they would encourage me every time I did something wonderful. In some ways, St. Rita was my second family."
Taking a laid-back approach to his studies has never been an option for Hall. Since he can remember, he tells about how his parents "pounded and pounded into his head" that he had to succeed in school. He admits that he wouldn't have gotten this far in life had he not done well in school.
Hall is also the first to admit that being a student at St. Rita was nowhere near the difficulty of being a student at Ohio State.
But college was just another challenge that he was determined to succeed at.
"Going to class my first time here scared me out of my mind"
Making the move from Cincinnati to Columbus was no big deal for Hall. Because he was known as the "bold and aggressive one" at St. Rita, he wasn't going to let leaving home stop him.
"Sure, I knew OSU was a big school with 50,000 people, but I looked at it as a challenge," he types.
Growing up, Hall had many close friends who were able to hear, so communicating was going to be difficult, but not impossible. Hall says he felt comfortable talking with people just as long as they allowed some time for him to get adjusted to the situation.
In an effort to provide Hall with the best atmosphere possible, he was paired with sign-language interpreter, Chris Chirico. Hall continues to express how fortunate he was to have Chirico's help, especially after his first-day jitters.
"Going to class here for the first time scared me out of my mind. I didn't know what to expect. I know I said I was an aggressive and bold person, but everyone gets nervous."
As a senior now, going to class is just second nature to him.
"I just go to class, learn, and go play some golf," he types. "I understand what it is like to be a good student and I know what it takes to do well."
Perhaps what is most intriguing about Hall's education is his dream job in the communications field. The journalism major wants to be a beat reporter.
"I am a communications major to every extent. I want to be out there reporting, interviewing people and writing stories. I'm not sure how I'd go about it, seeing that my speaking skills might get in the way a little bit, but we'll see how it goes when I get there."
"Nobody knew what to do with each other"
If adapting to college life was a challenge for Hall in the classroom, then hitting the links his freshman year was like pounding a 300-yard drive with a pitching wedge.
At St. Rita, Hall was used to practicing at his own pace and doing whatever he wanted. But at Ohio State, head coach Jim Brown had a set schedule that was intense and just the opposite of what Hall had been used to.
"Man, it was an eye-opener," Hall recalls. "I used to be able to go practice whenever I wanted to, but the feeling I had when I came to OSU was that of a military feeling, 'Your butt belongs to us now.' "
Communication was also a hurdle to overcome as Brown and his other golfers understandably had no prior experience with a deaf person or training in sign language.
"I have to admit that it was a hostile environment at the beginning," Hall types. "Nobody knew what to do with each other. My teammates and coach were wondering how they could communicate with me and I was trying to figure out how I could communicate with them. Everybody was pretty nervous."
In fact, since Hall qualified for five tournaments his freshman year, Brown was forced to bring Chirico along to help with the communication process. Hall didn't need to read sign language to understand, "good shot" or "nice putt," but Brown's instructions or comments about his swing usually needed Chirico's help.
Chirico, who still interprets for Hall from time to time, traveled with the Buckeyes during Hall's freshman year, but the travel began to take away from his responsibilities and studies at OSU. As it became easier for Hall to communicate with his teammates and coach, he didn't need an interpreter with him anymore.
Brown used to write down comments on anything he could get his hands on at the beginning, but with time was able to get used to Hall's voice and read his lips. Throughout Hall's career, Brown has been able to learn a few signs related to golf, which has helped.
"Now, it's like I'm not even deaf," Hall types. "When I walk into practice now, people will be yapping at me and I'll be yapping back. Most of the time everything is understood but if not, we have our own communication system. We'll spell out words in the air or just type them in to my special pager."
"Quit being afraid, and reach for the sky"
When asked, Hall will be truthful in saying that more so than being the first African-American and deaf golfer ever to play at Ohio State, is the fact that he overcame many negative comments from people who said he couldn't make it.
"How many deaf kids out there can say that they play varsity sports for a big time university with such a rich history and tradition? I became deaf, got to be a good golfer and bowler (Hall averages 205 per game when he bowls), did well in school, and landed a full scholarship to play golf at The Ohio State University where Jack Nicklaus, Chris Perry, and John Cook played at. That's pretty big to me. Don't get me wrong though, I am very proud to be the first black and deaf golfer in Ohio State history. Now others can quit being afraid, and reach for the sky like I did."
One golfer with whom Hall took guidance, is former Stanford standout and current PGA Tour star Tiger Woods. Hall experienced the opportunity of a lifetime a few years ago when he had the chance to meet the top-ranked golfer.
"Meeting Tiger was surreal," Hall types. "Here I am, hitting balls with the golfing prodigy, or so they called him at the time, and he comes up and gives me a swing tip on how to hit the ball further. He told me that he'd see me on the PGA Tour someday."
Hall has also had the chance to meet Nicklaus over his career at Ohio State. Allison Hanna, the senior captain of the Buckeyes' women's golf team, introduced Hall to the golfing legend when he was watching his son Gary play at Muirfield Village.
"He smiled and told me to keep up the hard work and to stay focused," Hall remembers.
But staying focused is quite a task for Hall. On the golf course, it's literally just him. He can't hear the birds chirping on an early spring morning. He can't hear the ball hit the bottom of the cup, even though seeing his ball disappear isn't such a bad thing. But at last year's Southwestern Invitational, Hall didn't need his hearing - just his eyes - to witness his first hole-in-one of his career.
"I was standing over my tee shot with a 4-iron and I had been lacking confidence with my long irons all year long. I was just hoping to get it somewhere on the green. The ball took one hop and disappeared. Coach went berserk and we were just jumping around high-fiving each other."
While the ace was certainly a highlight in his career, Hall knows that even a perfect shot can't exempt you from the game "you just can't master."
"I think it's a combination of the desire to succeed and the frustration that builds that keeps you coming back to golf," he types. "The exhilaration of shooting 7-under par or bombing a perfect 300-yard drive down the middle is awesome. But golf is a humbling game. You can shoot 65 one day and 85 the next. Most of the time, it is nice to play golf without being able to hear, but that's not even half the battle. The mental game is the constant battle."
Currently, Hall is focused on being a leader of the Buckeye squad and hopes to earn All-America status by the end of the year. He's looking forward to helping Ohio State to a Big Ten championship and a trip to NCAAs, as well as a career among the professional ranks. He holds the top average on team of 73.7 and finished a season-high ninth at last year's Big Ten Championships.
"My plans as of right now are to turn pro after the summer, play in small tournaments, and just try to build my way up to the top. Being a rookie pro is a learning process. It will take time for me to learn that hitting the ball straight plus making putts equal money. If things don't work out, I will always have my journalism degree to fall back on."
"I just live life the way I want to live it"
"The victory in life and in golf is to he who is captain of his soul."
To Hall, who has lived his entire life by the old golf quote, it means, "Control yourself and you win."
Hall will shy away from the question of feeling that he is a role model, but yet he continues to go back to St. Rita with his good friend of 15 years, Chad Metcalf, and talk to students about life. In a way, he's just doing what his parents told him to do, and making a difference each day.
"It's hard to look at myself as a role model because I'm close to a lot of those kids' ages too," he types. "I go through the same things they go through. I make mistakes just like they do. I learn things in life just like they do. For me to transcend myself to role model status, I just can't do that. I just live life the way I want to live it, work hard and have fun doing it. If people want to follow my lead, that's fine with me. As long as I'm doing good things in life and helping other people, I'm content."
Hall plays a similar role on the golf team. If ever the mood be dreary, rest assured that a joke from Hall is on the way.
"My teammates know that I bring everything to the table. I can be funny, I can be serious, and I can be upset. Part of being a leader is to not be someone you are not. I love to make people laugh and I do that with my teammates. Some of my responsibilities are to create a light atmosphere, loosen everyone up and get the boys ready to have a fun practice. Golf is enough of a stressful sport that people need to laugh and realize what a blessing it is to be able to play the wonderful game."
It's clear by now that Hall gets most of his motivation from life's challenges and the support he receives from his parents. Perhaps they are also motivated by their son. Recently, Hall's parents went back to school, and he reports they're earning straight A's.
"That motivates me because these are people in their fifties getting A's in college. If they can balance their jobs, their responsibilities as parents and students, and still get A's, I should do the same. But there is one quote from Muhammad Ali that I read each day, which serves as my primary motivation.
"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."
"To me, that means you always need to go out there, work hard, and prepare for the greatest challenge of your life."