1968 saw a number of terrible things such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King in April and Robert Kennedy in June, the disruption of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, and other problem. But it was a special year for John and Sally Pride as they were expecting their first child. There were great expectations for this new life being created in Washington, DC. Lurking in the shadows, however, was another disaster waiting for them and thousands of others: another epidemic of German Measles (Rubella) (sometimes also called the “three day measles) in the United States, just before a preventive vaccine became available in 1969.
Rubella was first clinically described in 1740 by Friedrich Hoffmann and was, according to Ackerknecht (1982), confirmed by de Bergen in 1752 and Orlow in 1758. George de Maton, in 1814, was the first to suggest that the disease be considered distinct and different from both measles and scarlet fever. All these physicians were German, hence the common name of “German measles”. In 1866, an English artillery surgeon, Henry Veale, in a description of outbreak in India gave the disease the name of “rubella” (from the Latin word, meaning “little red”) in 1866. After further research, Rubella was formally recognized as an individual disease entity in 1881, at the International Congress of Medicine in London.
Throughout the centuries, there were epidemics of rubella that caused many birth defects and miscarriages including a pandemic between 1962 and 1965, starting in Europe and spreading to the United States. In the years 1964–65, the United States had an estimated 12.5 million rubella cases, leading to 11,000 miscarriages or therapeutic abortions and 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome. Of the cases that initially survived, 2,100 died as neonates, 12,000 were deaf, 3,580 were blind, and 1,800 were mentally retarded. In New York alone, rubella affected 1% of all births. In 2016 we now have a vaccine for women so that rubella is almost eradicated.
The US rubella 1968 epidemic, while smaller than the earlier episodes, was to be of concern for John and Sally. Their child, Curtis John, was born December 17, 1968. By the time the baby Curtis was about a year old, he seemed not hear or respond to sound. Hearing evaluations had been going on for a number of months as was the status of audiological evaluation at the time, but by 17 months of age it was confirmed that baby Curtis was one of the 12,000 deaf children born in 1968. In fact, audiologists found him to be 95% deaf in both ears due to the rubella that Sally had contracted while carrying Curtis. Opportunities were greater for the family in the DC suburbs, so John and Sally Pride moved to Silver Spring, Maryland just outside the District of Columbia in 1971, Curtis was just two.
While this story was repeated many times in early 1970s with various consequences, young Curtis was enrolled in the Montgomery County Public School System’s Auditory Service infant program. He became an exceptional lipreader and was fully mainstreamed into his neighborhood schools from seventh grade until his graduation from John F. Kennedy High School in 1986. The move definitely paid off for the Pride family and especially for Curtis. In addition to graduating from JFK with a 3.6 GPA, Curtis was an outstanding high school athlete, excelling in the sports of baseball, basketball and soccer. He was a first team All-American soccer player and a member of the United States National Team that played in the Junior World Cup in Beijing, China. As a result of his play in that tournament, Curtis was named as one of the top 15 youth soccer players in the world in 1985.
After already accepting a full basketball scholarship to the College of William and Mary, Curtis was drafted in baseball by the New York Mets. Through a unique arrangement negotiated among the Pride family, the Mets, and William and Mary, Curtis signed with the Mets as a professional baseball player while he also attended college as a full-time student athlete. From 1986 to 1990 Curtis was a four-year basketball starter at William and Mary while also playing baseball part-time in the Mets organization. He graduated from William and Mary in 1990 with a degree in finance.
At age 6, while playing his first game of T-ball in 1975, Curtis had said “I am going to be a baseball player”. Twelve years later he had signed with the New York Mets the first deaf baseball player since Dick Sipek in 1945. After graduation from William and Mary he began his baseball career. Curtis has subsequently enjoyed a successful career in professional baseball, playing with the following major league teams: Detroit Tigers, 1996-1997; Atlanta Braves, 1998; Boston Red Sox 1997 and 2000; and Montreal Expos, 1993, 1995 and 2001 and later the Anaheim Angels. In 349 major league games, he has compiled a respectable .256 batting average with 18 home runs, 76 RBI’s and 28 stolen bases.
These days, Curtis John Pride is the Head Baseball Coach for Gallaudet University in Washington DC two time Northeast Athletic Conference (NEAC) Coach of the Year setting a huge example for young deaf players and offering the expertise that comes with a successful career in major league baseball. Pride has lead the Bison to a school record willing 25 games in 2012 and went 11-3 in conference play in 2013 and 27-18 in 2014. While 2015 was not as good of season for Pride’s Bison, we wish them good luck for a great 2016 season!
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Together with Pride Foundation (2008). Who is Curtis Pride? Retrieved March 29, 2016.
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