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Blind Youth Views Life as a Challenge to Excel

December 19, 1985|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer(

It's typical of Rusty Perez that when he decided to join the Bolsa Grande High School marching band as a freshman three years ago, he didn't stop to consider exactly how he would march with the band.

The Garden Grove high school junior has been blind since birth. But when Rusty, 16, sets his mind to do something, he is not one to let his visual handicap get in the way.

"It was something we didn't think about (beforehand)," Rusty recalled during a break between classes earlier this week. "Someone said: 'We're marching today.' 'OK, how do we do it?' "

With a laugh, he recalled that "originally, we were thinking of using some type of harness. I threw that idea out: I'll look ridiculous and it won't work. Then I thought: When I walk down the hall with someone, I usually grab onto their elbow or their shoulder."

And, as anyone knows who has seen Bolsa Grande's Marching Matadors at football games, parades and concerts, that's exactly how he does it.

Worked Without Hitch

Holding his fluegelhorn--that's a cross between a trumpet and a trombone--in his right hand, Rusty marches with his left hand resting on trumpet player Bill Hollis' shoulder.

It has worked without a hitch during marches, Rusty said, and each year he has become progressively more confident during field shows in which the band members march in different directions.

During the first year, Rusty stayed out in front with one of the flag girls which, he noted with a grin, "I didn't mind."

The second year he stayed with the drummers, "since they don't move much." But this year he is with the trumpet players, and, as he said, "they move a lot."

"The joke is," he said with a laugh, that "I'll get a seeing eye dog and we'll do it all by ourselves."

In Free-Style Events

Playing a fluegelhorn with the Marching Matadors isn't Rusty's only special interest at school, where he gets around with the aid of a collapsible cane. He's also on the high school swim team, competing in free-style events.

"Rusty was not the first blind person on the swim team," ob served Al Zimmerman, the high school's teacher of the visually handicapped, "but he is the first one to really stick with it and make it work and actually go into a competition and come out with a prize."

As Zimmerman said: "There isn't anything Rusty won't try."

From the start, instrumental music director Andy Bumatay had no qualms about having a visually handicapped musician in the marching band. In fact, he had auditioned Rusty for the band while he was still in junior high school.

"He's a good horn player, and I didn't want to exclude him," Bumatay said. Besides, he added, the other band members "have gone through junior high school with him, and they take care of him."

Loud Brass Player

Bumatay said Rusty loses some lip control because he is holding the horn with only one hand, and he loses some finger dexterity "because he must hold the horn so tightly that his fingers aren't free to move like they should. But he's compensated for that."

Bumatay added: "He's probably our loudest brass player. He projects more than anyone. Out in the field that's all you can hear sometimes."

Unlike the other band members, Rusty does not read music. Bumatay makes a tape of the band playing "and then Rusty picks out the part I want him to play," he said.

"Whenever he marches we play better because we know he's there. It's a reflection of him as a person because the kids really like him. He's an inspiration for everybody, and he goes out and he does it."

Rusty is one of nine visually handicapped students at Bolsa Grande, which Zimmerman said is the only high school in Garden Grove to have a program for the visually handicapped.

'Very Bright Youngster'

Zimmerman was asked if Rusty is exceptional.

"Yeah, I think so, in the sense that he is aggressive and outgoing," he said. "He's ambitious to explore the world, ambitious to succeed. Rusty is a very, very bright youngster. He'll probably go on to college. At this point he's making fair-to-good grades. He could do better, but how many teen-agers couldn't?"

Zimmerman, who is legally blind himself, added that "I challenge him at all times. I'm always on his back because I feel his expectation of himself and others is great and, therefore, I'm going to expect a lot of him."

Noting that "too often the full measure" of handicapped children is not expected of them when they are young, Zimmerman said: "They are going to miss pieces of life if people exempt them from it."

Blond-haired Rusty Perez, who was an infant when he was adopted by Benjamin and Sarah Perez, said he never had a problem with his parents not letting him try something new.

"There are a lot of parents of handicapped people that don't let their children do stuff," he said. "I'm just glad they did. They just told me to go for it whenever I wanted to do something."

Will to Succeed

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