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Illinois legally blind teen catches adults in high school marching band

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WASHINGTON – Jim Tallman has been the principal of the Washington Community High School Marching Band for 29 years.

He’s never had a fanfare like first-year flautist Amelia Heinze.

“There was no one else in our marching band with such a severe level of visual impairment as Amelia,” said Tallman.

“When we heard she wanted to join our marching band, we said we would give it a try. If there were any problems, we would stop her. Amelia did well. There were no incidents. major.

“And she wants to get better. She’s been taking private flute lessons since August.”

A “bright spot” for educators

Nick Pacelli is also impressed with the remarkable 15-year-old. He is Amelia’s high school case manager for special education services, both academic and extracurricular.

“It’s really amazing that Amelia is playing in the marching band,” Pacelli said. “She amazes me. She’s very independent. And an honorary student.”

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Pacelli said that Amelia makes every day better for the high school staff members who interact with her.

“Amelia is a beacon of hope for those of us in education,” he said. “It’s not an easy time to be a teacher because of the pandemic, but she brings a smile to me and many others every day because of her wit and her joy.”

Washington rookie Amelia Heinze, 15, performs with the Panthers flute section at halftime of a recent football game at Babcook Field in Washington.  Although legally blind, Heinze is able to memorize music and walk to the beat of her band mates.

Take on the challenge

So how bad is his vision?

Anyone whose vision is less than 20/200 is considered legally blind.

“My best corrected vision with my glasses is 20/300,” Amelia said.

She has depth perception issues.

She is sensitive to light, so she often wears sunglasses over her regular glasses and a hat on sunny days.

Sunlight, car headlights and streetlights make it hard to see.

Up close, “I can’t make out people’s faces until they’re about a foot away,” she said. “People may think I’m rude or ignore them because I can’t tell if someone is talking to me or waving to me until they are very close.

“Even with enlarged writing on papers, I have to come very close to see. About three inches.”

An object that is not close to her is a blur, Amelia said.

“If there was a black bear in the distance, I would see a blur of black,” she said. “I wouldn’t know it was a bear. If the bear were further away, I wouldn’t even see a blur.”

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Pacelli describes his visual impairment in another way.

“Amelia can’t identify fruits and vegetables when she goes to the salad bar at school,” he said. “It’s the easiest way for me to explain to others how bad his vision is.”

Amélie is albino. According to the Mayo Clinic, albinism is a group of inherited disorders that prevent or limit the production of melanin, which determines the color of a person’s skin, hair, and eyes.

“Melanin also plays a role in the development of the optic nerves, so people with albinism have vision problems. Visual impairment is a key feature of all types of albinism,” according to the report. Mayo Clinic.

One of Amelia’s vision problems caused by albinism is nystagmus, a rapid, involuntary back-and-forth movement of the eyes.

Sheet music has been enlarged from a typical 11 X 17 sheet of paper to help Amelia Heinze see and remember music.

Master the performances of the marching band

So how is she able to play a role in the Washington Marching Band’s “Arabian Nights” show, which won the championship?

His music is inflated on 11×17 sheets. She has to memorize the music because these sheets are too big to be used in a folding folder when she is playing.

Amelia said she couldn’t see the signals from the marching band’s drum majors, so she relies on what she can see around her to make sure she’s making the right moves.

Flute section leaders and high school special education staff assisted her with logistics, such as navigating controlled chaos during competitions, and making sure she was aware of obstacles like nests- de-poule and train tracks as the marching band performed on the return from high school parade.

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Amelia said she enjoyed playing the flute for many reasons.

“On the one hand, it’s not noisy,” she said.

And she loves being part of the marching band, even though it’s a whole new experience.

She wanted to join the Washington Middle School Marching Band last year as an eighth-grade student to prepare it for high school, but there hasn’t been a Marching Band season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I love the people I have met in the marching band, the connections I have made and the competitions,” she said. “It’s not like sports, where you compete against another team. You compete against yourself to be better every time you compete.”

Yes, Amelia played sports.

She competed in cross-country competitions as a sixth and seventh grader at Washington Middle School “without really any help during the races,” she said.

Washington first-year flautist Amelia Heinze, in a white shirt, walks in formation with her band mates during a recent practice on Babcook Field.

New skills and new challenges in the midst of grieving

Amelia plays in the marching band and makes the normally difficult adjustment of being a middle school student to a high school student while mourning the loss of her sister, Eliana “Ana” Heinze, 17, who was killed in July in a traffic accident on Interstate 55 just south of Lincoln.

Ana was one of three Washington high school girls who died in the crash as they returned home from a trip to Six Flags St. Louis. A relative of the Washington High School band was also killed in the crash.

“Being in the marching band was a great distraction,” Amelia said. “Ana would have loved our show.”

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Ana loved being a part of the Washington robotics team. Amelia joined this team this year.

“It’s cool,” she said. “I want to be a programmer so it’s a great experience.”

“Don’t be afraid to try things”

Amelia has some advice for other students with physical disabilities who are reluctant to do something outside of their comfort zone.

“I have learned from my experience that if you want to try something, there are people who will help you,” she said. “You can do things like everyone else, just a little differently.

“Don’t be afraid to try things. If you don’t try something, you’ll never know whether you like it or not.”

It has been a successful and emotional season of competition for the Washington Marching Band, which lost band member Hannah Phillips and her father Seth Phillips in a traffic accident in July.

The Panthers finished third among 20 groups at Dunlap last weekend and posted the highest score for the color guard.

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Previously, Washington was the grand champion at Pontiac among nine groups with the highest scores for winds and percussion, and the grand champion among 29 groups at Metamora with the highest scores for winds.

The Panthers’ next program is an end-of-season community show on October 26 at Babcook Field.

Steve Stein can be contacted at (248) 224-2616 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.


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