After a high fever when he was 2 years old caused the follicles in his ears to stop moving and rendered him deaf, Blair, who plays on Teasley Middle School’s basketball team, has spent the majority of his life taking his instructions from sign-language interpreters — both on and off the court.
While Blair can sometimes read the lips of his teammates and coaches, he admitted that issues in communication would sometimes arise.
“I watch when the coach speaks, and sometimes I read the lips of my teammates, too,” Blair said through Ametria Pelham, who typically signs for Blair during games. “But, if they speak very fast, I don’t understand them, so I have them slow down.”
Though he’s been deaf almost his entire life, Blair has developed a keen sense of observation, said Teasley teacher of the hearing impaired Laura Picel. It’s a trait Haslick said she feels actually makes him a better player than other students who can hear.
“He always knows what is going on. He is always watching,” Picel said. “He is very aware of his surroundings, of what other people are doing. He’s like the king of the basketball court, because he is able to block out all the noise and just play. I think that his hearing loss has helped him.”
“He is very, very visual,” said Blair’s father, Roya, who helps coach his son of the Junior Warriors eighth-grade feeder team. “If you show him something one or two times, he’ll pick it up really fast. It’s like he has a photographic memory for basketball.”
Despite having to constantly overcome the separation in communication between himself and his teammates, Blair usually manages to play at such a high level that many fans in attendance who have never seen him play don’t seem to notice that he has a disability.
“If you didn’t know it before watching a game, then you wouldn’t know it after,” Teasley coach Brian Puckett said.
Even the coaching staff of last year’s Cherokee/Cobb All-Star Middle School basketball team, of which Blair was selected to play for, had no idea that he was deaf.
“I called one of his all-star coaches up to talk about Caleb, and when I told him he was deaf, the coach was shocked,” Puckett said. “He couldn’t even believe it.”
Despite his disability, Roya Blair wasn’t surprised at all that his son had been able to play on basketball teams with those who could hear, something Caleb has been doing since the fourth grade.
“Before he was even walking, everywhere he went he would have a little ball,” Roya Blair said. “I was actually told that the first time he ever got up and walked was for a basketball. One of his brothers was watching him while I was at work, and he wanted the ball, so he walked for it.”
Roya Blair said that seeing his son play basketball was like watching a dream come true.
“I do my best to try and tape every game he plays,” the elder Blair said. “He has had to overcome a lot of adversity to be able to play the sport. When he first started playing, people would look at him differently, but his hearing loss has never once affected his ability once he gets his hands on the ball. I am very, very proud of him.”
After completing middle school, Caleb will attempt to follow in his older brothers’ footsteps and play high school basketball next year, something his father and coach have no doubt that he will do.