Sconion's grip on life

On the mat, in class, blind 16-year-old remains determined to come out on top

January 24, 2007|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun Reporter

This was one time that being blind actually might have benefited Andre Sconion.

Before a recent junior varsity heavyweight match, the Aberdeen wrestler went over his moves with a teammate before coach Tim Lindecamp led him to the center of the mat. What Sconion couldn't tell was that his opponent was an inch taller and 23 pounds heavier.

Maybe it wouldn't have mattered - after all, Sconion, a junior, has been overcoming challenges for some time.

Early in the match, after the two wrestlers tumbled out of bounds, they restarted in the center of the mat. The referee pushed their hands together and blew his whistle. In an instant, Sconion grabbed his opponent's right knee with his left hand, forced his larger rival off balance and landed on top of him for a 54-second pin.

"Andre's obviously someone who has decided he's not going to just sit back and feel sorry for himself," said Dr. Ben Carson, the renowned pediatric neurologist from Johns Hopkins Hospital, who has treated Sconion, "but he's going to use the talents that God gave him."

How does Sconion use those talents? To wrestle, certainly. To get around Aberdeen High without a cane. To get honor roll grades. To play the Madden video game.

And perhaps just as importantly for a teenager, to pursue girls.

One of the wrestling team's statisticians, Whitney Anderson, called him "a little bit of a flirt."

"One day, I was teasing him about a match, and he tripped me on the stairs," Anderson said. "I guess he counted the stairs, timed it just right, and then he just tripped me and started laughing."

Sconion, 16, has been blind since he was 4, a condition believed to be linked to a non-malignant tumor that grew behind his left eye and to head trauma suffered in a subsequent car accident.

Though surgically removed, the tumor cost Sconion much of the vision in his left eye before he lost the fading sight in his right eye because of the accident within a few months of the operation.

Edna Sconion said she "cried like a baby" when informed of her son's blindness, but he was "a lot tougher than me."

"No one ever dreams of having to raise a child that's blind," said Edna Sconion, who works at a Rite Aid distribution center in Aberdeen. "Andre basically continued to do all of the things that the other kids did - going outside, playing, and the other kids helped him. Andre picked things up real fast, and the other kids helped him along."

When it comes to wrestling, Sconion gets a hand from drilling partner Andrew Woodward.

During a mid-December practice, assistant coach Dick Slutzky demonstrated a variety of moves in the middle of the room. After each demonstration, Woodward translated physically and vocally for Sconion.

When Slutzky showed a "swing-single-leg," Woodward asked Sconion, "Do you know what that is?" before taking him through the move step-by-step. "Andre listens to what I say and pays attention to what I show him - that's basically how he learns," Woodward said.

The team and its opponents make other accommodations for Sconion, who is one of at least two blind wrestlers at a Maryland public high school, along with Michael Spriggs of Charles H. Flowers in Prince George's County.

Sconion and Spriggs found themselves in the same gym last Thursday when Spriggs, a varsity wrestler, and his team faced Fallston and host Aberdeen.

While Sconion's teammates run sprints, he'll do push-ups or other calisthenics. During matches, Sconion's foes are required to maintain contact. Thus far this season, Sconion, 5 feet 11, 215 pounds, has a 4-3 record, with four pins.

Away from the mat, Sconion had to adjust to a new school when he transferred to Aberdeen from Edgewood as a sophomore.

During his first days at Aberdeen, vice principal Joe Harbert recalled, Sconion paced off "the distance to the rooms - and this is a large school - to familiarize himself.

"Nowadays, even though all of the classrooms and the numbers on the doors are marked in Braille, Andre doesn't even use them," Harbert said of Sconion, who stopped using his cane after the first three days of school. "Once you meet Andre, you forget he's blind because he fits in and functions so well."

Sconion takes notes in class using a Braille device - "like a portable typewriter or a computer that has a Braille display on the bottom," he said. Sconion earned five A's and three B's last quarter.

He wrestled as a freshman at Edgewood, winning 14 of 21 bouts, but concerns about travel logistics prompted his mother to move him to Aberdeen, where he lives with his aunt, Emily Cotton, and grandmother, Stella Sconion.

"I had nobody to look out for him in the mornings when he was catching the bus," Edna Sconion said. His aunt now drives him to and from school.

On weekends, he's back at his parents' Edgewood home, sometimes occupied playing the Madden football game with his 18-year-old brother, Aaron.

"If I've picked plays a few times, I can memorize them based on sound. I've also memorized and learned the controls," Sconion said. "With Aaron, our games go back and forth. But the other day, I beat him."

He doesn't have a feel just for video games. When the Sconion brothers go shopping for clothes, "There are certain logos he likes and knows how to feel around for a certain brand of clothes," Aaron Sconion said. "But mostly, I tell him what looks good."

And at Aberdeen High, with fine grades, lots of friends and the respect of his wrestling teammates, things are looking quite good for Andre Sconion.

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