Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 30, 1974 · Page 73
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 73

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 30, 1974
Page 73
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Page 73 article text (OCR)

Unconquerable Carla By Martha Smith Photos Iv Jamt SU'wart Carla uses her other senses with uncanny sureness. Hanging around Carla Pingley can be very bad for a person's inadequacies. They all seem to surface simultaneously. Take the other day for instance. Tall, slim, athletic Carla invited a reporter to play tennis. The short, un- slim, clumsy reporter replied: "You've got to be kidding. I mean with your height advantage that would hardly be fair." Then, after additional blusters, the reporter added: "Besides/how would those headlines look? 'Blind Girl Slaughters Reporter in Tennis Match'?" At 18, Carla Pingley is unconquerable. She already has gained national attention by : successfully joining West Virginia University's high- stepping marching band. She is totally blind, the victim of congenital glaucoma!. But she doesn't have tcTsee to conquer. Television viewers across the U. S. saw a full five-minute feature of Carla last fall as she learned the intricate field maneuvers and then performed before a filled stadium of adoring fans in Morgantown during the Homecoming game. CBS commentator Ed Rabel openly marveled at Carla's confidence and ability. That's nothing new. Carla is a marvel who has set the WVU student body on its collective ear. She has, in her first yeari conquered the vertical slopes of the campus terrain, conquered and melted the heart of Penn State University.'s finicky band leader, conquered sorority social life and, most importantly, conquered, and captured 160 new brothers and sisters--her doting fellow band members. Band director Don Wikox Carla Pingley's biggest fan. He recalled recently: "When she showed up to try out she completely overwhelmed the other kids. Her attitude was 'This is something I can learn to do.' The other kids were kind of intimidated;, they thought she was like a China doll and they were afraid she would break. "She's cool, though. In a few hours, all the inhibitions everyone else had vanished. And by the time band camp was over, she could have run for mayor and made it. Her personality is so dynamic. They love her so much, they wouldn't care if she played out of the wrong end of the horn. It happens she plays well {Carla is a clarinetist.)" · »· Lest there be any confusion, Carla is not a person ·declared legally blind who has .partial si'gh't:~She sees nothing--no images, no light arjdi/dark. Everything is dark.: In fact, when a Missouri federal penitentiary inmate saw Carla on television last October and wrote offering her his eyes,she had to turn him down. Since she was born with congenital glaucoma, corneal transplants would do her no good. Her blindness is permanent. And so is : her determination. After the offer of the eyes-a gesture that touched .Carla deep'ly-she resumed a freshman college year filled with awesome victories. She participated in sorority rush and was chosen by Alpha Phi. The activity, however, was to prove both; ersome. Pledge duties interfered with band rehearsals-all-important for every freshman band member. 'Twent on a few bvefnigh- ters -at the sorority house," Carla explained. "And when we got our big sisters, I had to run all over campus look- ing for clues as to the identity of mine. My pledge group had to clean out the furnace room at one of the fraternity houses, and we all had to 'chug' two shots of tequila. "I finally had to drop sorority, though, because I was too busy to keep up with my pledging. Band was demanding and band is my first love. It won't be so hectic this fall--I know the ropes now--so I'm going to repledge sorority. I made a lot of good friends among the girls I met." *· Drinking and partying are two big extracurricular activities at WVU and Carla didn't escape either one. Although she insists she stayed sober more often than the majority of her friends, she does acknowledge with a. guilty grin she had one jolting- experience with .demon rum during a fraternity costume party. "It was.a. Halloween event," she salST^t went as Fanny Brice. I wore a gold , sequined drop-waist dress, tap shoes and a long blonde wig with a head-band and a feather. No one recognized me. "They had everything in the world to drink there and I sampled some of it all. I was dancing and I fell. I hit my head on a stone fireplace. I woke up the next morning in University Hospital with a concussion and a big bruise on my foot. The doctor asked me how I fell and I told him I can't see. When he said he still didn't understand how it happened, my roommate told him 'Well, she was drunk.' ' 'The doctor just shook his head and said 'Oh my Lord, . a blind drunk!' " '"~ *· Orientation to the crowded, steep streets of Morgan? town didn't prove to be too much trouble to the confident Carla. She remem- bered, though, one time she became completely lost. With her impish, infectious chuckle, Carla recalled: "A friend and I were searching for another friend's house. We were walking up some steps and I kept tapping my cane and saying I thought it felt like the right place. We went inside a house and I said I was sure we were at my friend's place. We went upstairs and walked into the bedroom of a total stranger! Wrong house." To compensate for her blindness, Carla uses her other senses with an almost uncanny sureness. Her senses of hearing and balance, for instance, were crucial in learning the difficult field maneuvers'the marching band employs. ; . Her field cues come from a drum lidk or other percussion note. She. knows the number of steps to the next formation spot and her pivotal turns' are professional 'quality. It wasn't always that way. At first, Carla* needed a little help from time to time. Director Wilcox said of her training: "If she would slightly, miscalculate a turn ' because of a slick field or some other unexpected problem, one of the people next to her just said'bigger step' or 'come to the right.' In case of a major'error, somebody just took hold of her and got her'back in the groove. .That didn't happen often." '·'.'. Carla Pingley's posture is so natural and her mannerisms so confident -- the result of early encouragement and help from her family -she frequently fools, fans who look for her on the field. Many of the band members wear sunglasses, so that's no clue,- and that's the way Wilcox and Carla want It: one « , . , ... *.,. -..,;, '-'l^sing^jgn language; Carla talksrMilh'deaf student Rober Sliahan. ··'." f . . ' i ] ·' · \ - · . ' · ' : \\ '\ 4m CHARLESTON, \V. VA. And "listens" lo Sliahan by feeling shape of his hand as he. rejilies. , . t , ; t · , - _ - y f v y^ ^ } - r ; ~ p '\\.\ '\ '· ,'/'}"'- ·June 3C\ 1974 Swrdav Gazette-Mail

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