NORTH ANDOVER — Hannah Neild has accomplished quite a bit in her athletic career.
She was a decorated three-sport athlete at Campbell High School in New Hampshire, and now she’s emerging as a star in the making as a freshman on the Merrimack College women’s basketball team.
She also happens to be legally deaf.
The Litchfield, N.H., native lost her hearing following an illness she suffered as an infant. But even though she can’t hear the ball bounce or the net swish without the help of her hearing aids, that has never kept her from making noise on the court.
Neild made an immediate impact upon her arrival at Campbell, earning All-State honors in soccer, basketball and softball each of her four years.
Since her arrival at Merrimack she’s quickly established herself as the team’s top 3-point shooter and the type of player who can come off the bench and instantly spark a rally.
That ability and her high basketball IQ has impressed her teammates and coaches, who have noted how easily she’s fit into the program despite her disability.
“It just hasn’t been an issue on the court at all in terms of communication between us or with her teammates, so it’s really presented no problem at all,” said Merrimack women’s basketball coach Monique LeBlanc. “In fact, an additional thing is she understands the game really well. There are things where if she didn’t hear me say something, she’d probably be fine, because she just knows the game so well and has such great instincts.”
Neild described her condition as moderate to severe, indicating that she can hear fine with her hearing aids but pretty much can’t at all without them.
“It has its positives and its negatives,” she said. “I sleep well at night, if I’m in my own zone I can take them out and focus on what I have to do, and I’ve done that in school during tests and whatever. But talking-wise, if I don’t have them, it’s kind of rough, because you want to be a part of things, but you’re not really.”
Neild has two pairs of hearing aids that she usually wears, a pair that strap around the outside of her ears and a pair that go inside that you can barely see. She normally wears the outer ones for basketball since those tend to be more stable, and even though they stand out more, she said people don’t usually ask about them.
“I think kids notice more,” Neild said. “We’ve gone to the Boys and Girls Club for volunteering, and most of the time I get questions about it. They’re like ‘what does that do?’ I say it helps me hear.”
There was, however, one notable incident where Neild’s hearing aids did draw some unwanted attention. Before her first varsity game as a freshman in high school, she was approached by a referee who asked her to take out her hearing aids, saying they could serve as a competitive advantage.
“My coach and my athletic director and principal were all really upset about it, probably more than me, and they spent the whole game calling the headquarters of the NHIAA to try and figure that out,” Neild said. “I actually went out and had one of my better games of freshman year, just in spite of everyone who thought I couldn’t do it.”
Though Neild was not born deaf, she spent her earliest years unable to hear after developing a kidney infection and a high fever simultaneously at age one. Because the two ailments couldn’t be treated at the same time, the fever persisted while the kidney infection was dealt with, and she lost her hearing as a result.
After several years of silence, Neild got her first pair of hearing aids when she was three, and immediately they helped open up a whole new world to the toddler. She recounted one time shortly after she got the hearing aids where she was playing on the floor while her father was reading the paper nearby, and when he turned the page, she heard the papers crumpling and she turned around to look at what it was.
“That was big for me, because those little things meant so much as a little kid,” Neild said.
The hearing aids have allowed Neild to live a mostly normal life since then, but growing up it wasn’t always easy for her to accept her condition.
“I used to try and hide it,” she said. “I’d wear my hair down to school so people wouldn’t see them,” she said.
As she grew older, she began working with a hearing specialist who came to her school once or twice a week. Neild credited her for helping her come out of her shell and embrace what made her different, and once her basketball career is over, she hopes to enroll in Boston University’s Deaf Studies Program so she can study audiology and one day become a teacher of the deaf too.
“She’s the one who let me accept it, told me I could do just as much as everyone else,” Neild said. “So I decided I wanted to be that person for kids just like me.”
QUITE A RESUME
— Four-year letterwinner at Campbell High School in soccer, basketball and softball
— All-state selection in softball, soccer and basketball each of her four years
— 2015 NHIAA Female Athlete of the Year
— Won three state championships (two in softball, one in basketball)
— Campbell’s all-time leader in assists, steals, free throws made, shooting percentage and free-throw percentage, also second all-time in scoring.
NEILD BY THE NUMBERS
Here’s how she has done for Merrimack College this season:
Points Per Game — 6.4
FG Percentage — 40.4
Threes — 22*
3-point Percentage — 34.4*
FT Percentage — 81.3*
Games Played — 20
Minutes Per Game — 18.6
* leads team