Deaf football team storms California

RIVERSIDE, Calif .– The California School for the Deaf athletic program, Riverside, has suffered its fair share of humiliation and haras...


RIVERSIDE, Calif .– The California School for the Deaf athletic program, Riverside, has suffered its fair share of humiliation and harassment over the years. There was a time when a volleyball coach on a visiting team made fun of deaf players. And another time, a hearing coach of the women’s basketball team listened to opponents discuss the embarrassment it would be to lose to a deaf team.

It didn’t help morale that the college football team, the Cubs, recently suffered seven consecutive losing seasons, leaving the school with a grim feeling that opposing football teams have come to the Riverside campus in the hope of an easy victory.

No one denigrates the Cubs anymore. This season they are unbeaten – the top ranked team in their Southern California division. In 11 games, they didn’t beat their opponents so much as they flattened them.

On Friday night in the second round of the playoffs, the Cubs beat the Desert Christian Knights, 84-12, a score that would have been even more unbalanced had the Cubs not shown mercy by putting their second-string players on for all of this. the second. half.

Led by the school’s physical education teacher, Keith Adams, a burly and effervescent deaf man whose two deaf sons are also on the team, the Cubs are a quick and hard-hitting team. Wide receivers with winged feet soar over the defenses, averaging 17 yards per catch. The quarterback is also the team’s best running back, with 22 touchdowns this season. A system of coded hand signals between teammates and coaches very united confuses opponents with its speed and efficiency.

With Friday’s victory, the Cubs are two games away from winning the divisional championship for the first time in the school’s 68-year history. But coaches and players say they already feel like winners.

“Sometimes I still can’t believe how well we’ve played this year,” Adams said after Friday’s win. “I knew we were good, but never in my dreams did I think we would dominate every game.”

In a part of California that suffered greatly during the pandemic with high unemployment and more than 5,000 dead, the excellence of the Cubs uplifted the school and the surrounding community.

Football is a richly audible experience: the crash of helmets, the crackle of a tackle, the screams of teammates on the sidelines and the roaring approval of the crowd. Friday night games on the Riverside campus aren’t completely silent, but they aren’t loud either. The generators that power the lights buzz and the crowd responds with scattered applause. But there’s no sound system, no play-by-play commentator to call out player names after a touchdown pass or a jam tackle.

The American flag flies near the field, but there is no national anthem before the game. A sign language interpreter hired by the school acts as an intermediary between the Cubs coaching staff and game officials. Ahead of Friday’s game, the interpreter reminded officials to wave their hands when they whistled to stop a game.

For the coaching staff, the team’s success has undermined the long-held stereotype that deafness is something to be overcome in football.

Mr Adams, who coached the team for two seasons starting in 2005 and started his second stint four years ago, attributes the turnaround to rigorous conditioning and a particularly talented cohort of players, some of whom have played together. for years at lower levels.

He also has a philosophy that what might be considered a deficit can be a benefit.

Many teams try to use hand signals to call games, but they are no match for the Cubs, who communicate with a flurry of hand movements between each game. No time is wasted by players who run on the sidelines to be heard by the coaching staff. No meeting is necessary.

Coaches also say that deaf players have heightened visual senses which make them more attentive to movement. And because they are so visual, deaf players have a better idea of ​​where their opponents are on the pitch.

After being beaten on Friday, Desert Christian coach Aaron Williams said he had a warning for future opponents at California School for the Deaf, Riverside.

“I would say you have to be careful thinking you have an advantage,” he said. “They communicate better than any team I have ever coached against.”

For players, parents and staff, the success of the football team has been more than an athletic triumph. Many describe it as a sign that deaf children can be their best when they are together in a completely deaf environment.

Delia Gonzales, mother of Felix, a junior and one of the team’s wide receivers, beamed on the sidelines on Friday as her son scored two touchdowns.

She recounted how Felix begged her to play football when she was 10, but then fell into despair when surrounded by hearing players he couldn’t understand.

“The coach was just talking to him,” Ms. Gonzales said. “He came home crying.

Many players and staff use the word loneliness to describe how they feel in traditional environments, surrounded by people but isolated. And teachers and parents share how students have thrived in a completely deaf environment.

“Absolutely, it changed her life,” Ms. Gonzales said of her son. “Now he’s one of the stars. “

With just 168 students in high school – the institution runs from Kindergarten to Grade 12 – the Cubs play in an eight-player league designed for small schools, often those in rural areas or private institutions. Other eight-player schools include the prestigious Cate and Thacher schools in Southern California. There is only one other high school for the deaf in the state, and it does not play in the same division.

With their winning streak, the Cubs are starting to stand out. Players and coaches took part in pre-game ceremonies for the Los Angeles Chargers-Minnesota Vikings game on Sunday and were featured on the Jumbotron in a crowded and acclaimed stadium.

The school’s 63-acre campus, once surrounded by orange groves, is now framed by shopping malls, freeways and fast food restaurants, and is the only public school for the deaf serving the southern half of the State.

The success of the football team energized the campus and resulted in impromptu alumni reunions at games.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Patricia Davis, one of the school’s first 56 students when it opened in 1953.

“We’ve been a losing team for so long,” she said in Friday’s game, surrounded by exuberant graduate comrades. “I’m just thrilled.”

With a dirt track around the pitch, bleacher fragments that appear to have been salvaged from a demolished stadium, a blurry scoreboard and a bumpy grass playing surface, the school has all the qualities of an underdog team. The field is dimly lit by portable floodlights, each with its own exhaust generator, the kind of equipment that could be deployed by a construction crew at night to repave a freeway.

Winning has made these conditions more bearable this season. On Friday, the players sat in their locker rooms on benches facing their coaches for the pre-game pep talk.

“You have a job and it’s to win,” Esau Zornoza, assistant coach, urged the sign language players. Dressed in their cardinal red jerseys, 21 players lined up at the door and slapped the hallway walls as they paraded on the warm Southern California evening.

Long brown-haired Cubs quarterback Trevin Adams said playing with deaf teammates was liberating and fueled the team’s winning chemistry.

“We can express ourselves completely,” said Trevin, a junior who is the son of Coach Adams. “We can be leaders. We can assert ourselves.

When he was younger, Trevin played in a league with hearing people.

“It looked like a team,” he said.

“It looks more like a brotherhood.”

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