A sign of the times

Handicap not a problem for Horvath

Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005

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Charlie Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Rockville High sophomore Greg Horvath (right) tries to draw a charge against Kennedy’s Jeremy Herring last Thursday. Horvath is almost completely deaf, but communicating is not an issue.

In basketball, or any team sport really, communication is the key to success. The importance of teammates trusting each other, being able to rely on and communicate with each other is immeasurable. So, imagine if one player was set apart from the team, didn’t have the same capacity to communicate. One would think it’d cause major problems. But Rockville forward Greg Horvath seems to have broken through such a barrier. Despite his hearing disability — he was born with hearing but lost it almost completely six months later — Horvath, just a sophomore, has landed a starting role on the Rams’ varsity.

Of course that’s not to say there aren’t any adjustments that have to be made, there are. But the Rams have all been willing and eager to make them for their teammate and friend.

‘‘It’s pretty normal [for us],” junior forward Sean Canahuate said of the situation. ‘‘We’ve gotten used to it. We have symbols for each kind of offensive and defensive play we’re running.”

In addition to hand gestures for each play, Horvath is constantly looking at the sideline to Erin Lynch, his interpreter, who signs to him everything coach Jack Freeman is saying to the team. During team huddles, he looks to Lynch to get whatever information is being forwarded to the team. And he never seems to miss a beat. But as with any situation requiring adjustment, sometimes there is regression.

‘‘I have to always watch and right next to the coach is the interpreter,” Horvath said. ‘‘The players, we’ve set up signs. Everyone is supposed to sign, but sometimes they forget, and I won’t know where I’m supposed to be, it’ll take a minute.”

But, that hasn’t yet hindered Horvath’s ability to get himself into position and prove to be an effective force under the basket — the 6-footer is averaging five points a game. And, perhaps because he knows he constantly has to be on his toes, Horvath is sometimes more aware of what’s going on, pays attention more to what Freeman is saying, than anyone out there.

‘‘He’s very sharp,” Freeman said. ‘‘He has great vision and he can pick up on things well. As far as what’s going on, a lot of guys don’t do that well and they don’t have a hearing problem. He’s astute. He’s a student of the game. I can’t yell out there to get his attention, but he looks over a lot. I probably get his attention more than the other players, because he knows he has to pay attention. I just think the world of him.”

Horvath, who was born in Hungary and has also lived in Cuba and Russia before moving to the United States three years ago, began playing basketball when he was 5 in Hungary. A natural athlete, he started off with soccer at the age of 3, but soon his interest migrated to the hardwood. And he’s loved the game ever since, spending a lot of time playing for his team in Hungary, which can most easily be compared to AAU basketball here. His love for the sport is evident in his intensity during games, always putting forth as much effort as possible. That saying, ‘Leave it all on the floor,’ Horvath takes literally.

‘‘He’s always working,” Freeman said. ‘‘He’s very dedicated. He’s committed and he loves the game. That’s all you want in a player.”

Many area deaf athletes choose to attend schools such as the Maryland School for the Deaf, but Horvath, who lives close to Rockville, opted to stay in the public-school system. And Rockville has a special program for hearing impaired students – there are 10 interpreters who help him at different points of the day. His decision to steer clear of a school designated just to kids like him, has proven to work out just fine.

‘‘He has a big impact on the team,” Freeman said. ‘‘The kids like him. There’s that camaraderie. He’s got a great personality.”

Horvath’s main goal, is, at some point, to get back to Hungary and represent the national team. But before that, he wants to graduate from college, spend time honing his skills, possibly at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where there is a special program for hearing-impaired students, or Gallaudet University in D.C., which claims to be the world’s only university for the deaf and hard of hearing.

‘‘I’d like to go to college, get a lot more training and experience,” Horvath said. ‘‘Maybe be a photographer or something in computers. Or maybe an inventor. I’d like to learn more details about the game. And then I’d like to make the national team, like professional basketball. [Right now] they don’t really get in to the Olympics, they’re not a great team. But yeah, I’d hope to help get the team to that level.”

Those might be lofty goals, but if he works hard toward them, you never know what can happen.

‘‘Ambition is a big deal,” Freeman said. ‘‘Kids that have it, you don’t want to ever dampen it.”