SMITHS STATION, Ala. (AP) — Collin Frase might be blind, but that doesn't stop him from marching in perfect formation with his 150 other band members during halftime of Smiths Station High School football games.
Frase, a senior, was born 16 weeks premature with retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, which left him blind in his right eye and with only 20 percent of his peripheral vision in his left eye.
"Basically, I was born premature," Frase said. "I weighed 1 pound, 9 ounces. I could fit in the palm of your hand. I had a 5 percent chance of survival, and I beat the odds."
Though he has only a tiny amount of vision, Frase uses no help from a white cane, a guide or a guide dog because he insists on being as self-reliant as possible.
"I do what everyone else does," Frase said. "I go to my classes. I try to be as independent as possible. I leave when the bell rings, and I just do whatever I need to do to be like everyone else."
That mindset and his passion for music led Frase to pick up an instrument. But as a braille reader, there were obstacles.
"He wanted to be in the band in sixth grade," said Lavinia Parnell, a visual impairment specialist who has known Frase since he was in kindergarten. "Not only did he have to learn how to play the trumpet, but he had to learn the braille music code, which is different than the braille literary code. The band director suggested he play a trumpet because he can hold it with one hand and read the music with his other hand."
While Frase is adept at playing the trumpet with one hand, he can hold the instrument properly after he learns the new song.
"There's not a big learning curve for him. He just manages to do it," said Rusty Courson, Smiths Station's director of bands. "He has great memory skills. He just has to play (a piece) a few times, and he has it memorized."
Simply playing in the band was not enough for Frase. Soon after he learned to play the trumpet, he set his sights on achieving what few believed a blind person could do: marching in formation with the band at halftime.
"They didn't let him march (at first), but he wanted to do what everyone else did," Parnell said. "That was kind of a challenge because he can't really see. But it's remarkable because when I watch the band play, I can't pick him out. He doesn't miss a step."
Frase had the utmost confidence in himself, even though he was not allowed to march until his junior year.
"When I started, they didn't let me march in eighth, ninth or 10th grade," Frase said. "They made up excuses that I might fall on the field. Once they let me march, they figured out that I could do it quite well."
Now, every halftime at a Smiths Station football game, Frase is on the field, even though the audience is blind to his presence among the 150 other members of the band.
"Collin's role in the band is not any different than any other student," Courson said. "That he's blind, I wouldn't say it's a disability because Collin has never allowed it to be a disability. He does everything that the rest of the kids do. If you see the band on Friday nights, you can't pick him out. He's doing his job."
As he is a senior, Frase is exploring his options to further his education and reach his goal of working in the field of information technology, though he has already achieved one of his major goals: being a normal high school student.
"I'm just like every other person," Frase said. "I have bad days and I have good days, but I try to be as positive as possible. I'm thankful that I can see what I can, thankful that I'm alive and that I'm here right now."
Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, http://www.oanow.com/