Nancy Churnin is an award-winning children’s book author. She describes her writing as being “About people who change the world for the better.” Adding, “Kindness breaks down walls.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Nancy and learning about her thirteen-year journey writing The William Hoy Story. She is the first to agree it was worth the time it took. I enjoyed our conversation about the connections she’s made and the lessons learned along her journey.
Nancy is from New York City. She and her cousin, Bill Bickel, spend many days at the theater catching the matinees. She received a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.
For many years, Nancy enjoyed being the theater critic for the Dallas Morning News. One of those assignments changed the direction of her writing career. In 2003, she was assigned to cover the Garland High School play, The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, by Allen Meyer and Michael Nowak.
She interviewed the writers for the newspaper. She learned that one of the writers, Allen, had an interest in writing this play because of his deaf daughter’s experience growing up in the early 1980s. Allen was also a huge sports fan. A week after Nancy’s article came out, she received an email from a gentleman in Columbus, Ohio. She was certainly perplexed as to why someone from Ohio would respond to this story about a high school play in faraway Garland, Texas.
That email began a lifelong friendship with Steve Sandy, a Deaf historian. Steve had a personal and passionate interest in everything about William Hoy. Hoy, like Steven, had attended the Ohio School for the Deaf. Steven knew Hoy’s family and was on a mission to have William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Hoy had been a diligent student. He’d graduated as class valedictorian in 1879 but worked in a shoe repair shop after high school since that was a common profession for Deaf people at that time. He had an unmistakable talent for baseball, though, and was soon scouted out (according to this article by Ralph Berger). Hoy would go on to play “in 1797 games with an average of .288, including 2048 hits, 1429 runs, 40 homers, and 725 runs.” With his great speed, he is credited with 596 steals (although a steal was classified differently at that time).
When Steve shared his dream with Nancy, she suggested, “I could write a children’s book about William's story and your dream.” She envisioned that children could send letters to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As a professional journalist, she thought writing a book was going to be easy. “One afternoon is all it should take. No. A second afternoon. No.” She finally received a note from one editor saying, “This reads like a newspaper article.” Nancy continued, “That’s when I learned I need to take classes to learn and develop a craft of writing for children.”
She joined writer's groups like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and 12 x 12.
“With the groups and Steve Sandy cheering me on,” Nancy said, “I finally got the story right after thirteen years.”
And what a beautiful story it is. William Hoy decided he wanted to play baseball. He worked hard and never gave up. As life offered challenges, he stepped up to the plate and gave it his all. First, he was sent off to live at the Ohio School for the Deaf in the 1800s. These schools were residential. Parents dropped their children off and went home. He’d lost his hearing at age three. William had a close relationship with his mother, who’d always encouraged him. He tried out for the school baseball team but didn’t make it. He didn't give up. He practiced more and more until he finally became a National League baseball player with the Cincinnati Reds.
Here he met more challenges because of being Deaf. Once, the whole Cincinnati Reds stadium laughed at him for not knowing he’d struck out. He didn't give up. Instead, he devised a playbook of signs for the umpires and players. Then, he would know when the referee called a strike, safe, or out. Did you know it was Hoy who introduced Major League Baseball referees to sign language? These signs are still used today in baseball.
Steve never gave up his dream of seeing William in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He gave Nancy that same spirit of determination in writing her first children’s book, published thirteen years later in 2016. She commented, “Inspired by William, I persisted, and ultimately William Hoy helped me get my wonderful agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, and my fabulous publisher, Albert Whitman & Company.”
Of her experience with ASL, Nancy said, “I am not fluent, but I teach a bunch of words to children when I read them The William Hoy Story. They love learning sign language. I am so grateful I realized the power of ASL. The art form is like a song on their hands and faces. Just so beautiful.”
I enjoyed our time together, talking about life and the joys of ASL. I’ve included the relevant portions of our interview, but we talked about so much more that I’d love to share another time. I love Nancy’s mission to write about people who inspire children to be kind and improve the world. Check out all her books!
What a fun story about an amazing man William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy, who just wanted to play ball! He made such a huge impact and contribution to us all. I love that Steve Sandy reached out to Nancy Churnin and playwriters Allen Meyer and Michael Nowak wrote a play about William for Nancy to meet Steve and write The Story of William Hoy.
Go play ball and get a copy of The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin, Illustrated by Jez Tuya and published by Albert Whitman & Company. Don’t forget to check out Nancy’s social media and website, too!
Dreams do come true Nancy shared this exciting news, “Steve is very excited that Hoy will get his next chance to be nominated and, if nominated, possibly inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2025.
We are encouraging kids all over the country to write letters to the National Baseball Hall of Fame asking for him to be inducted there. I have a Hoy for the Hall page on my website where I'm posting pictures of the letters the kids and schools are sending: https://www.nancychurnin.com/hoy-for-the-hall.”
Follow your dreams, and do the thing that makes your heart sing with joy. William worked hard to achieve his dream. Steve worked diligently to have Hoy inducted to the National League Hall of Fame, and Nancy discovered writing for children was a lot of hard work and so worth it. What's your story going to be?
Berger, Ralph. “William Hoy,” June 9, 2021. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/william-hoy/.
Churnin, Nancy. The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game. Albert Whitman, 2016.
Ellis, Jeffrey. “Tennessee Playwrights Studio's FAN ME WITH A BRICK.” BroadwayWorld.Com, July 13, 2023. https://www.broadwayworld.com/nashville/article/BWW-Interviews-DUMMY-HOY-playwright-Allen-Meyer-on-bringing-the-play-to-a-wider-audience-20110819.
12x12 Challenge. “Home - 12x12 Challenge,” July 1, 2023. https://www.12x12challenge.com/.
Nancy Churnin. “Nancy Churnin,” n.d. https://www.nancychurnin.com/.
SCBWI. “The Global Community for Children’s Book Creators,” n.d. https://www.scbwi.org/.
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