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August 7, 2012 > A visit to California School for the Deaf to talk about athletics

A visit to California School for the Deaf to talk about athletics

Submitted By Karen Talken

As a new member of the Dawn Breakers Fremont Lions Club and editor of our club's newsletter, the Paw Print, I decided to find out more about athletics at the California School for the Deaf. Visiting the campus in Fremont, I was impressed by campus sculptures, artistic walls and nicely kept grounds. I felt vulnerable when trying to find my way around the school, knowing that I was at a disadvantage since I don't "speak" American Sign Language and hoping not to insult anyone by overly animated attempts to communicate. I couldn't help but feel separated from this community and wondered if the deaf community felt as awkward as I did when communicating with hearing communities.

I was directed to the offices of Superintendent of the Athletics Department, Len Gonzales, and Head Coach Warren Keller. Writing a note of thank you for making the time to see me, I felt that my written words were hollow and did not allow satisfying communication or expression. It made me aware of how much hearing people rely on voice tone and fluctuation. I spoke with Coach Keller using MS Word on the computer.


KT: What do you think is the most important thing hearing communities need to know about deaf athletes?
WK: I believe that the general community should know that deaf student-athletes are just like any normal hearing kid out there. We all can function and play sports accordingly. The only thing we are incapable of is hearing.

KT: What do deaf athletes have that hearing athletes don't have?
WK: I believe that what is unique about this school and our student-athletes is that we have tremendous community support. Our families come from near and far. We have players from Fresno, South Lake Tahoe, and we serve all the way up to the Oregon border. Despite that, we have so many inputs from the community on this program and our students are really privileged to be part of this - a community that cares so much about football and their educational capabilities here and after they graduate.

KT: What disciplines do deaf athletes work harder at than hearing athletes?
WK: We definitely have to use our eyes more. I can't just blow my whistle or yell in something. We have to wave and I do not like to wave often. Therefore players have to be alert at all times and focus on the play itself while also keeping an eye on the coaches. By being so, we become more disciplined on game days. Then there's being on time, practicing hard and showing up for summer workouts but that does not differ from other schools.

KT: What sensory cues do deaf athletes use?
WM: We use hand signals to call in formations and sign language in general. We are visual learners.

KT: Do different positions present special challenges?
WM: Yes, our linemen have to peek as the ball is snapped then block when we are on offense. I often feel like we are half-a-step behind our hearing opponents when doing so because they have a direct sight line on the ball on defense. In the past, many deaf programs have used a drum to signal the snap so that those advantages are limited. We do not often use that right now as I like to let my quarterback and linemen adjust plays on the fly so I will likely allow them to snap without the drum this year.

KT: Are helmets revised for better vision?
WM: Yes, some helmets have a bigger cage, allowing better vision but I think ours are pretty standard; I hope we will have the budget for newer helmets in the future. It's a difficult situation for us and everybody else at this time. Our helmets are really old and need to be replaced soon.

KT: As a coach, what are your goals?
WM: I am a first-year head football coach. I have coached baseball, JV football, softball, and basketball in the past and enjoy coaching any sports but being a football head coach has always been a dream of mine. I think we have a very good team this year. We lost 16 out of 24 players to graduation last year but have a solid core of seniors. Our programs include JV, Middle School tackle football, and finally Elementary Flag Football programs. Therefore I think we are primed for another run at the NCS Division 5 Playoffs. We want to try and win that along with the Deaf National Championship that has been absent in this school since 2002.

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