Deaf, hearing teammates on same wavelength now


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Apr 18, 2004
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Deaf, hearing teammates on same wavelength now | ®

The bass drum on the sideline would be the quarterback, they decided, a simplistic "boom! boom! boom!" to signify the basic cadence of football: "Hut, hut, hike."

It made sense at the time, coaches admit — everyone could hear the snap count, in his own way.

They look back at it now and smirk. Their 26 players — 11 deaf or hard of hearing — were more similar than different all along.

The Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and St. Augustine Catholic High School have combined their football teams successfully, through four games this high school season. The team has a 1-3 record playing eight-man football, and probably won't be a contender for the state title.
But that's not the point.

What's happening at ASDB — the West Side campus that St. Augustine players bus to for a half-hour every day — is still the greatest success story of the season.

The first week of August practice, without a translator, co-head coach Arden Dohman, a St. Augustine parent, learned he couldn't just blow his whistle. He had to extend both arms outward at the same time so deaf players could understand.

The team soon figured out communication. Plays and formations are e-mailed to players. An interpreter is used at half the practices. Some hard-of-hearing players can translate for players from both schools.

The team now hikes the ball on the quarterback's snap count, deaf players watching the football as the center thrusts it backward. It's easier than using a drum.

Their T-shirts read "ASDB/St. A Football." Their helmets show both the ASDB cactus and the St. Augustine wolf head.

Interacting with players they might not have met before, the teammates have become one. Days melting in the hot August sun will do that.

"This is a real football team," said Ryan Odeski, a senior lineman who attends St. Augustine. "It's like a brotherhood."

Learning to sign[/B]
Close your eyes and imagine an American Sign Language motion for the word "football," and you'd probably guess it — two hands cupped, palms down, fingers outstretched and then meshed together.

It's what a college center does when he calls a huddle.

Here, it means more. Both hands, both schools, coming together and intertwining.

The marriage of the two schools was one of convenience.

The East Side Catholic school has a student body of about 135 and an athletic department budget of about $48,000, and had been clamoring for a team for years. It does not have a practice field, uniforms or equipment.

ASDB has about 70 deaf high school students and an athletics budget less than one-fifth that of St. Augustine's. ASDB, which played a junior-varsity schedule last season, had facilities but needed extra players.

"The goodwill part is easy," Dohman said. "Without us, ASDB doesn't have a team. Without them, we don't get to play football."

R.J. Davis remembers the giggles from his St. Augustine classmates when they found out he was playing with deaf students.

The senior was happy to play football and learned quickly that ASDB had elite athletes.

It would have been easy to split the team into two groups — one school on offense, one on defense — but that would have defeated the point.
Davis, who scored three touchdowns against St. David High School on
Tuesday, had registered a more impressive feat Saturday.

He asked his mom if a friend could spend the night.

Unwittingly, he used sign language.

Seeing the passion

If you had to call plays from the sideline by hand, no words, you'd probably do exactly what the team does.

"Florida" is called by making a gator-chomping motion with both arms. "Raider" is called by putting a hand over an eye. "USC" is spelled out.

The players don't huddle. A hearing quarterback, Jordan Frost-Dixon, gets the play from co-head coach Gerald Brown, who is deaf.

Across the sideline Tuesday, Preston Goodman had his own interpreter. The St. David sophomore — who attended ASDB's grade school — is deaf.

Afterward, ASDB-St. Augustine coaches joke he probably read their sign-language signals, and, just maybe, they eavesdropped on his interpreter.
It's old-time football gamesmanship.

There are miscommunications on the ASDB-St. Augustine sideline. Coaches and players struggle to get each other's attention. Passionate eyes belie silent lips.

Many times, coaches — both hearing and deaf — can't express themselves quickly enough, like a toddler too young to speak.

"The passion, you can see," said Dohman, the hearing St. Augustine coach.

"It just takes us too long to communicate."

That can happen when players on both sides are immersed in a new world.
ASDB students, many of whom live on campus in dorms, benefit from the interaction.

"Part of it is teaching them to socialize with the hearing world and not be so isolated," Brown said through an interpreter.

Tan Nguyen, the defensive coordinator, grew up in a deaf family, attended a deaf high school and college and serves as a teacher's aide at ASDB.

"It's the first time in my life I've ever experienced something like this," he said through an interpreter. "We were all very curious to see if this experiment would work.

"We have a cultural difference, and then we have subcultures within the minorities. At first there were a lot of difficulties, but now it looks like everything is coming together."

Emmanuel Gurule is proof. At night, from his ASDB dorm, the junior calls Davis, his new teammate. With an interpreter speaking for Gurule, the teammates talk long past when the interpreter gets tired.

"We talk about hearing girls and the deaf girls," Gurule said, laughing, through an interpreter. "They've gotten so much better at signing. We can talk."

Finding an identity

The team travels to games across the state, a good chance to game-plan, bond and goof off.

The two schools, however, must bus to games separately because of insurance concerns. That outrages them. In less than one month, they consider themselves inseparable.

Sometimes, opposing teams squawk at the squad, assuming all are deaf. St. Augustine players snap back, defending their friends.

The team breaks its huddle with the word "respect."

If there is one thing the teammates disagree on, it's the team's name. The squad uses both the ASDB's Sentinels and St. Augustine's Wolves.

ASDB wants to placate alumni, St. Augustine to establish its identity.

The teammates know they're both and neither at the same time.

They've become something greater.

"We're teaching them commitment, teaching them how to grow up, be men, leaders," Dohman said. "The whole purpose, it's way beyond football."