Yankton: Biggest Bucks Fan


Yankton: Biggest Bucks Fan

Story Courtesy of Jeremy Hoeck of the Yankton Press & Dakotan. A year ago, Sylvester Wagner wasn’t able to celebrate on the DakotaDome turf with his Yankton High School classmates after a state football championship. He hoped he would get that chance this fall. And sure enough, after the Bucks beat Pierre in an overtime thriller last Friday night, Wagner was one of the first students to rush the field. Wearing his red state football t-shirt, Wagner – a 15-year-old sophomore at YHS – made sure to shake hands with players and tell them congratulations. The thing was, the players heard “nice game” from an automated voice. You see, Wagner – whose friends call him “Sly” – has a speech defect. He communicates with a device called a Nova Chat 5, which you’d confuse with a cell phone (it’s actually a Samsung), and it enables him to communicate through various phrases and commands that have been input into the device. It’s probably not something most of us are familiar with. You probably think such a device would be bulky; that it would be something you’d have to lug around. But no, it’s a cell-phone sized device on a strap Wagner wears around his shoulder. You would also have no idea he needs the device to communicate until you ask him, like I did this week, what it was like to be in the front row of the YHS student section last Friday night. “It was fun to be close to see everything,” the automatic voice replies, after Wagner pushes the correct button – much like you and I would click on the Facebook icon on our smartphones. By all accounts, the device has helped Wagner open up to his classmates and teachers. And it’s also helped that Wagner has been spending more and more time with Amberlee Mueller, a paraprofessional in the YHS special education department. Mueller, a YHS and Mount Marty College graduate, isn’t with Wagner all day, but it’s clearly a connection that is helping him. “He’s really good with me, because I’m with him a lot,” Mueller said this week, while sitting with Wagner. “We’re trying to get him to use it more with other students, to introduce himself and meet new people.” To ensure that Wagner’s communication with others is always improving, Mueller works – almost on a daily basis, she says – to input more replies, questions and other items. All of his teachers are also in the device, most with photos, as well as students in his classes. For example, ask Wagner where he likes to eat and you’ll hear “Yesterday’s” (Yesterday’s Café). Or ask him his class schedule, and you’ll hear the name of the course, the name of the teacher and which room the class is held. Yes, the device is set up to allow easier communication for Wagner, but it’s also proving to be helpful for his teachers, Mueller said. “For teachers, it’s a lot easier,” she said. “I try to work with them to say, if there is something they’d like me to put in there, to let me know.” Science class, for example, would be one of those classes where Mueller is constantly entering new terms – with the idea that Wagner would be able to participate during class. Imagine participating without the ability to talk. Imagine the hundreds of short conversations you have throughout an average day. Now imagine doing that having to push buttons on a phone. And yet, through all that understandable frustration, Wagner is a happy kid. He likes to tell you about his favorite class (physical education). He likes to tell you about his favorite sport (basketball. He actually plays Special Olympic basketball). And he smiles when you ask him about watching the Bucks. “My favorite part about the games is that it’s just fun to watch,” the device says, when he pushes a button. All he wanted was a chance to watch his beloved Bucks play in the DakotaDome. Wagner had never stepped foot inside the building in Vermillion. Last Friday was a whole new experience for him. “His reaction walking in was pretty amazing to see, for someone who had never been there,” Mueller said. “He just kept saying how big it is. He was saying, ‘Wow.’” Wagner, who found a spot in the front row of the YHS student section, moved all the way down to the corner of the bleachers to watch the final play of overtime. Yankton’s Tanner Frick jostled loose a Pierre two-point conversion to seal the second straight championship for the Bucks. The location of the play, though – in the back corner of the end zone – obscured the result for a few seconds. You couldn’t tell right away who won. Wagner had a perfect view, however. “He was probably the only one that knew,” Mueller said, smiling. “He was on the goal line watching.” It was the perfect early birthday present for Wagner, who will turn 16 on Sunday. No doubt, he’ll be pushing the ice cream button on his device that day.

  • Posted by asbsd
  • 1 Tags