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CHERI BOYER : She Gives Handicaps a Winning Overhead Spike

Times Staff Writer

She has a 25% hearing loss in both ears and lives with knees that pop and ankles that swell. Those are ailments that could have a traumatic effect on a 6-foot 1-inch teen-ager.

Her sister was last year’s San Diego Section volleyball player of the year. Being asked to follow in her sister’s footsteps might turn a 15-year-old high school sophomore into a bundle of nerves.

Cheri Boyer has many justifiable reasons to be a complainer or bitter, but she is neither. The star volleyball player from Poway High is a fighter whose outlook on life is as positive and cheery as her radiant smile.

“I know I will never go back to having regular hearing,” Boyer said, “but it doesn’t affect me at all on the court. Sometimes, I’ll joke around with my friends and tell them to walk around and talk to me on my left side.”

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Actually, as the team’s setter, Boyer is the one responding to shouts by her teammates. They tell her where they are on the court and she calls the plays. When she is not using her large hands to deftly set up a spike, she unleashes powerful right-handed smashes.

“Hitting is fun and is a good way to let out aggressions,” Boyer said, “but setting is more fun. When you’re setting, you’re always talking and moving. I feel like I’m a part of the game. “

That’s not exactly the attitude one would expect of a teen-ager who could have easily become withdrawn because of her physical problems.

“I feel she almost developed a chip on her shoulder because she couldn’t hear,” said her mother, Teri Boyer. “But she developed a fighter attitude. It’s been a major thing in her life and she has learned to handle it well.

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“I think it has made her a stronger personality. In the past, many times she’d say she didn’t hear what I told her. She missed out on a lot at home. Even on the court, she wouldn’t really hear directions.”

Since the problem with her ears began, unexpectedly, around eight years ago, it has been a trying ordeal for Boyer.

“There was nothing wrong with my ears,” Cheri Boyer said, “and then I suddenly began to have a lot of trouble with my right ear.”

Boyer had a tumor in her right ear that caused fluid to gather in both ears. Teri Boyer said the tumor is believed to be hereditary.

Eventually, Boyer lost 55% of her hearing in both ears.

In June, 1982, Boyer underwent nine hours of surgery to replace the ear drum in her right ear. Tubes were temporarily placed in both ears and she had humming in the ears when they were healing. It took nearly a year before the operation was deemed successful.

“This will be the first year she won’t have trouble hearing on the court, " Teri Boyer said. “She doesn’t suffer any more. The damage that was done was done and there is no way you can repair it. She will have a 25% loss in both ears.”

Boyer has learned to accept her fate, but she often wonders “what if?”

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“My dreams about being on the swim team came to an end,” she said. “I loved to swim, and now I’m not allowed to dive in the water.”

As if the problems with her ears weren’t enough, Boyer’s knees and ankles began to hurt when she grew too quickly. From the end of eighth grade to the end of the past summer, Boyer sprouted from 5-8 to 6-1. That’s five inches in a 15-month period.

“Cheri grew so fast that we became concerned,” said Teri Boyer, who is used to looking up at her children. “This past summer, I couldn’t believe how much she grew in the four weeks she was away at camp.”

“Cheri sometimes says she feels like an Amazon,” Teri said, “but she said it doesn’t bother her. She really wants to keep growing.”

Cheri said being tall has not affected her socially. She has a boyfriend and said she doesn’t feel uncomfortable being taller than most of her friends.

On the court, her long reach at the net is a big advantage. The major question is how her body will handle increased physical stress and additional height.

Poway Coach Lisa Sarver says Boyer will have to do exercises and use weights to strengthen her knees, upper and lower legs and ankles.

If her knees and legs hold her in good stead, there are many reasons to believe Cheri may well be the equal of her sister, Ann, who is a freshman on the UCLA volleyball team. Maybe even better, considering that Cheri started playing organized volleyball at a younger age than Ann.

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“Right now,” Sarver said, “there is nobody in the county who can block Cheri when she is pounding the ball from the back row.”

On a young team with many new faces, Sarver plans to use Boyer as a middle blocker in three rotations and a setter in three rotations.

“She has to learn that the setter has to take responsibility for everything,” Sarver said. “But that takes training. It took two years of hard work with Ann.”

Ann. That is a name that is frequently mentioned at Poway High. Seven members of the Boyer family have gone to Poway High, but Ann is the one who led the Titans to the 3-A volleyball championship last season.

Ann is also a popular name at the busy Boyer household, where rarely a day goes by without at least one pickup volleyball game in the backyard.

“Cheri almost idolizes Ann Marie,” Teri said. “Cheri is setting her goals based on what Ann Marie did. She’ll often ask me, ‘Did Ann Marie do this? Did Ann grow this fast?’

“This year has been a little harder for Cheri because Ann Marie was her best friend and her guide on the court. “

Said Sarver: “There was no sisterly rivalry on the court. Ann was a sister, friend and teammate. At times, Cheri may have thought Ann was hard on her, but she was really wonderful to her. She showed a lot of patience.”

Cheri and Ann cemented their personal friendship while driving in Ann’s Plymouth to club matches in Los Angeles. Their mother estimates the twice weekly drives put 27,000 miles on the car.

“I really got to know her well during those drives,” Cheri said. “We’d talk about guys, volleyball and pressure. Ann told me not to worry about playing volleyball if everything got to be too much.”

Cheri Boyer is still consumed with playing volleyball, but she has added schoolwork and a boyfriend to her extremely busy schedule. Now, she only practices from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and occasionally on Saturdays. And during her fifth period volleyball class.

“Last year,” Boyer said, “I slacked off in school. This year, homework and schoolwork come before any volleyball activity. I always remember what Ann told me. She said, ‘Take it easy if you’re pressured too hard.’ ”

Cheri appears to have mastered that advice.


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