DUNLAP — Stephen Pinarski may not be able to hear much without aids, but the Concord High School junior baseball player is not asking for any special treatment.
“I’m just like anybody else,” says Pinarski, who is a top-flight pitcher, third baseman and shortstop for coach Jim Treadway’s Minutemen. “My teammates don’t think I’m different.”
Stephen, the second of Jim and Valerie Pinarski’s five children, was diagnosed with moderate and severe hearing loss at an early age.
The Pinarskis’ oldest daughter Andrea has mild to moderate hearing loss and wore aids from about age 5 or 6, about the time Stephen came along, until around fifth or sixth grade.
Michael, 14, and Nathan, 8, who attend Goshen schools, do not have hearing loss. The youngest Pinarski child, Lukas, does have hearing loss, possibly as severe as Stephen.
“But it’s too early to tell,” says Jim Pinarski.
There had been no history on either side of the family so the couple was not sure if Stephen would have hearing loss when he was born.
“It’s really an odd thing,” says Jim Pinarski. “They can’t link it to genetics.”
Stephen did not pass early hearing tests and the Pinarskis went to an ear, nose and throat doctor for answers.
“We didn’t know at first,” says Jim Pinarski of the cause. “Then we went to an audiologist.”
At about 3, Stephen began wearing hearing aids.
The Pinarskis, who live in West Goshen, also decided on a different school path for Stephen. While Andrea had gone to Catholic schools during her elementary and junior high years — St. John’s in Goshen and then St. Thomas in Elkhart — before going on to Concord, where she was an all-state softball player as a CHS senior, Jim and Valerie decided to put Stephen in Concord schools because the system is the Elkhart County hub for the hearing impaired program.
“We knew that Stephen would get the most attention through Concord schools,” says Jim Pinarski. “It has been fantastic for him.”
Stephen has attended mainstream classes and an interpreter was in the classroom for support, especially in the early years.
With speech therapy, he learned to be vocal. Both Stephen and Andrea learned to read lips from an early age.
“My teachers ask me if I need to be up front in class,” says Stephen. “But they let me be normal just like everybody else.”
Treadway, who became Concord’s head coach in 2012, has been in the business world for decades after starting out as a Concord teacher. Ironically, his bachelor’s degree from Ball State University is in speech pathology and audiology and he once taught the hearing impaired.
“(My education) helps me understand what he’s going through,” says Treadway. “I know his issues are cochlear. Surgery is not going to correct it. But hearing aids will.”
Treadway has been a baseball coach for nearly four decades, but Stephen Pinarski is his first player with severe hearing loss.
Sensitive to Stephen’s needs, Treadway told the player to turn his hearing aids down during indoor winter workouts to save his ears.
“The constant amplification with poor acoustics will drive you nuts,” says Treadway. “(By turning off the aids, he could) focus on what we’re doing.”
On the field, coaches and players take Stephen’s needs into consideration.
“Windy days are the worst days,” says Stephen. “But my teammates will come up to me. They will translate for me.”
Treadway has noticed a change in Stephen’s drive in the past year.
“He has stepped it up,” says Treadway. “He has taken it to the next level.”
Now hitting the mitt at 87 mph, Treadway expects Pinarski to pass 90 next year. Pinarski and teammates Duncan Boone and Nick DeFreese have all been invited to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Junior Showcase where they will be seen by college scouts this July at Wabash College.
“Andrea was all-state,” says Stephen. “She gave me the motivation to be just like her and keep the family success going.”