New Oxford sophomore Auden Ledden is a member of the boys' basketball team despite being deaf. He is a solid contributor on the junior varsity squad. Matt Allibone
Auden Ledden wanted his coach to know he was sorry.
The New Oxford sophomore basketball player had messed up a play during the team's junior varsity game against Dallastown on Jan. 24. Disappointed in himself, he approached JV coach Alen Ahmetovic after the game with an apology typed out on his phone.
That's one of the ways Ledden communicates with his teammates and coaches. Sign language is another.
The 16-year-old was born deaf.
"That's just the type of kid he is," Ahmetovic said. "He's competitive and doesn't want to be treated differently, and we treat him just like everybody else. The only difference is he can’t hear us."
Ledden has been playing basketball since sixth grade. Now in his second year with the New Oxford program, he has the same goals as the rest of his junior varsity teammates. He wants to keep improving, eventually make varsity and maybe play in college one day.
Ahmetovic said Ledden has made steady improvements since joining the program. He has started a handful of JV games this season, and he typically plays about half of each contest.
Much of Ledden's motivation on the court stems from getting cut from the New Oxford Middle School team in eighth grade. He had picked up basketball the previous two years when he attended The Scranton School for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children, and he was eager to join a team when he moved back to New Oxford.
Not making the roster crushed him.
"He was devastated," Corinne Bordner, Ledden's interpreter who works at Lincoln Intermediate in New Oxford, said. "He told me, 'You know what Mrs. Bordner? I'm going to work really hard, and next year I'm going to make it.'"
He did just that as a freshman. Since then, Ledden has attended every summer league game, summer workout and fall workout, according to varsity head coach Sean Bair. He also regularly texts Ahmetovic, asking for ways to improve his game.
“I like that I’m treated as an equal," Ledden said through Bordner. "I need to improve my skills this year. I always try to ask Coach how to improve myself when I make mistakes. I always want to get better."
While his coaches and teammates do their best to treat him like everyone else, some adjustments have been necessary. Bordner, who also interprets for Ledden during school, attends every New Oxford practice and game so she can relay instructions to him. That process is relatively easy during practice but can be a little challenging during games.
If Ahmetovic needs to get Ledden's attention when he's on the floor, the coach stomps the ground so the sophomore can feel it. Bordner then signs what Ahmetovic is saying. In addition, some of the Colonials have learned a few signs so they can communicate with Ledden during games.
"I've learned (the signs for) rebound, box-out, shoot; it's pretty simple stuff," sophomore Josh Rickrode said. "It helps me become a better person and helps me with my communication skills. When we get yelled at for not talking (to each other during games), it makes us think, 'Auden wishes he could talk, so there's no excuse for us not talking.'"
Even though he doesn't like being treated differently, Ledden appreciates that his teammates go out of their way to help him out. Like any high school sophomore, he wants to be one of the guys and hang out with his teammates.
That's not always easy, but Bair said there's a camaraderie between Ledden and the rest of the players in the program. He added that even the team's older players get a sense of perspective by watching Ledden.
"He wants to be social, and there’s definitely times when I think he has something funny to say, and it’s tough for him because he can’t communicate it to everybody else," Bair said. "To see the interaction between him and the guys is the most eye-opening thing for me.
"If a guy is spacing out a little bit when we’re giving directions, that’s pretty offensive to him. He would do anything to hear what we’re saying. And we can make that point to guys at times."
While New Oxford is on the rise and enjoying a successful varsity season, Bair said Ledden will continue to be a key part of the program the rest of his career.
“I love the game I love being part of the team and improving my personal skills," Ledden said. "The coaches have done a lot to make me feel a part of the team and I’m forever grateful for that. I’m thankful for all of them.”