Camp Hill soccer player Andrew Sponic likes to think of himself as humble.
Meeting him, you would think the same thing.
The 6-foot-4 defender is having another successful year with his soccer team, standing with 12 goals and 31 points. The Lions ended the regular season with a 17-1 record, took a hard-fought 3-2, double-overtime loss to Central Dauphin in the Mid-Penn semifinals, and are on their way to the District 3 Class 1A playoffs.
Speaking with Sponic, you wouldn’t really notice anything different about him. And you wouldn’t notice his hearing issues or that he wears hearing aids.
Sponic’s parents found out about this issue when he was around 3 or 4. They would call out to him and get no response. After a while, they finally took him to get it checked out by a doctor. The diagnosis was bilateral hearing loss — hearing loss in both ears — and he now wears binaural hearing aids in both ears.
“It was something I was born with, so some of the sensors in my ears don’t function properly,” Sponic said. “It wasn’t like something happened and then I didn’t have my hearing; it’s just something I was born with.
“The best way I can describe it: there are different frequencies people can hear. I can’t hear low frequencies, like deeper voices, as well as I can hear higher-pitched voices.”
Growing up, Sponic’s hearing loss had its setbacks, like when the aids malfunction or when he has to take them out to go swimming or do anything with a lot of water. But the defender will be the first to tell you he doesn’t call it a disability.
“It doesn’t limit me; it’s just a little bit of a setback,” Sponic said. “At least with my condition, I know there are other conditions out there that require hearing aids that are a lot worse. I consider myself lucky and fortunate to have them because it does humble me.
“I think it makes me more self-aware, and I try not to judge people as much because I know that I’m judged constantly.”
Judging is one of the many experiences children have during their school years. That, and being embarrassed about everything.
“Definitely,” Sponic said when asked about being self-conscious about his hearing aids. “Fortunately, I never really got bullied or anything. I always had a pretty good circle of friends. I think it kind of more humbled me rather than made me more self-conscious or shy. Although, I was a shy kid in middle school and I kind of still am today, I think it made me more humble more than anything.”
Sponic mentions the word “humble” a lot, but he’s not the only one who sees it. The humility and selflessness are reflected both on and off the field. This is something head coach Justin Sheaffer also sees.
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“He’s a top-rate young man,” Sheaffer said. “He’s the good student. He’s a good leader out here on the soccer field for us and he’s just a good role model for young kids to look up to. The way he carries himself not just on the soccer field, but in the classroom and in the community, he’s just a down-to-earth, hard-working kid.
“In a game, he’s a big kid. So if he knocks into someone, he usually helps them up, and that says a lot about him as well. In addition to being humble, he’s extremely respectful.”
That, in turn, has earned him respect from teammates who consider Sponic as just another player — not just the player with the hearing issues. In a game like soccer where the other senses like sight are top priority, Sponic can put his hearing issues on the back burner.
“I don’t think it has too much of an effect on a game like soccer where it’s just constant movement, and communication with my other defenders is not too far away anyways,” Sponic said. “I’m always turning my head and looking for ques — hand signals, that sort of thing.”
“I don’t know, I could be wrong — maybe he doesn’t really hear me on the field, but whenever I shout out to him he seems to pick it up pretty well,” Sheaffer said. “I don’t know if it’s the tone of my voice or whatever it is, but almost immediately after I give him a little piece of advice, he looks over and nods.”
The only time Sponic seems to have issues with his hearing aids is when sweat builds up, which can ruin them. At that point, you may see him run to the sidelines and hand over his hearing aids to a coach.
And when the hearing aids are out during a game?
“Yell louder. That’s pretty much it,” Sponic said with a laugh. “It affects me, because, you know, with my other defenders you have to communicate. Fortunately I’ve grown up with the players that know how to adjust to it, so I’m not really freaking out when that happens.”
This isn’t the first time some of the players and coaching staff have dealt with a player with hearing issues. Cameron Frassetta, who graduated three years ago, was another player with hearing problems.
“His hearing issues were a little bit more extreme, I guess I would say,” Sheaffer said. “Andrew can still at least hear my voice on the field. He can pick out what he needs to do and stuff.”
While Frassetta and Sponic certainly aren’t the first players with hearing problems, they certainly won’t be the last. And they certainly won’t let their disabilities hold them back.
They’ll just be one of the guys.
“It’s funny because you know, at times, he’s just another guy out there. I don’t see him as any different,” Sheaffer said.