Graci Dietrich has severe hearing loss, so her Glenwood basketball teammates wore earplugs through a game

Graci Dietrich has forged a special friendship with a large group of girls at Glenwood Springs Middle School, with the gang making up the schools’ eighth-grade girls basketball team.

Graci, the daughter of Chris and Jodi Dietrich, was born with severe hearing loss missing all speech sounds, which complicates communication on the floor in practice, time outs and games, but that hasn’t stopped her from achieving her goals as an athlete so far.

In a display of togetherness, Graci’s friends and teammates last week put themselves in her shoes, wearing earplugs throughout a game at Grand Valley to simulate what it’s like — to an extent — for Dietrich on the floor.

“Most people don’t usually want to put themselves in a tough situation, so the fact that the girls were at least willing to try to see what it was like to play in a game was very heartwarming to us,” Jodi Dietrich said. “You can’t really put the emotions into words. The fact that the girls even tried to do this was really moving.”

Coach Eric Caro praised the girls’ active acceptance of those around them.

“Not just on the team, but within the culture in the school,” he said. “The way I see this group of girls interact with people in the school, and interact with Graci in everyday life, they’re just all about inclusion. They just set a real positive tone for the culture of the team and the culture of the coach. They’ve been so much fun to coach.”

The idea to play with earplugs started with Graci’s interpreter, Kyle Larson, who had the girls try it in practice. After discussions with Caro and Graci, the trio decided to surprise the rest of the team right before tipoff Tuesday with the suggestion of wearing earplugs in the game.

Graci’s teammates were caught off guard, but jumped in, with Graci starting the game at forward.

“It was tough to coach that game early on,” Caro said. “I think the girls had an adjustment to make. They had an adjustment with everything sensory involved. They struggled with playing with the earplugs in the first quarter, but then I think they kind of a had a big breakthrough moment where they realized that communication was a big thing for us.

“I think through that, the light bulb went off for them as a group realizing that this is what Graci deals with and has to play through, so we had to adjust to it and get better as a team.”

The girls already were learning sign language, which could give them an edge in competition at the varsity level.

“This definitely made us a better team and made us better at communicating,” Caro said. “This is something that I loved so much that I’m going to continue to incorporate into the future because it just did wonders for us as a team.”

Mom is proud of the team, too.

“The cool thing about this group from my perspective is that they are so willing to continue to learn sign language and are constantly asking Graci what the signs are for this and that,” Jodi Dietrich said. “She’s more excited about that than she was for her teammates putting earplugs in their ears. She wasn’t shocked at all by what the team did because she’s so comfortable with them as a whole.”

The Glenwood girls won the earplug game. Perhaps more importantly, they deepened their bond and perhaps even will prove to be role models.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.