Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Woodrow Wilson’s Jakkisha Smith overcomes being born deaf by making mark on court with instincts, tenacity
Woodrow Wilson’s Jakkisha Smith has good basketball instincts, her coach says. She has an excellent feel for the game and picks things up quickly.
That’s a necessity for Smith, a freshman who is the starting shooting guard for Woodrow. While her teammates listen to coach Adrian Martinez give instructions, Smith must look over at an interpreter to get the message.
That’s because Smith was born deaf.
Smith, 15, can read lips a little, but she communicates mostly through sign language. Her parents are also deaf, as well as her older brother and two younger sisters. Even with an interpreter, she and Martinez aren’t always on the same wavelength.
“Sometimes she’ll look at me like ‘I don’t get it,’” Martinez said. “And I’ll just say, ‘You’ve got to figure it out.’”
It can be difficult for an interpreter to convey basketball terminology. The meaning of things like back screen, pick and roll and “move your feet, don’t reach” can be lost in translation, or at least hard to sign quickly.
“With the interpreter, sometimes I don’t think the words are coming out the way they should be,” said Martinez, who had never coached a deaf player. “If I can’t get my point across, like during a timeout, I’ll get on the clipboard real quick and draw it out.”
It can be challenging, coach and player agree, but Smith has made an impact quickly. The 5-6 guard is a tenacious defender who had five steals in a game this season. She is also averaging 8.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for Woodrow (15-9, 7-4 in District 12-4A), which is on its way to a fourth straight playoff berth.
Smith gets help from senior point guard Ashley Pride, whom Martinez said is like a coach on the court. Pride can tap Smith on the shoulder and point to where she needs to be or give her a sign for a play.
“She plays really good defense,” Pride said of Smith. “She’s aggressive, and she never quits.”
Last week, the U.S. Education Department announced that schools must include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide equal alternative options. That could mean big changes for athletic departments, but hearing-impaired students at Woodrow have been competing on teams for years.
Smith is one of 43 students who attend the Regional Day School for the Deaf on the Woodrow campus. Several of those students compete in sports, said Arlene Stein, the director of the Dallas ISD program. The district provides interpreters for the student-athletes.
Many of those athletes have been successful. Linebacker Cesar Silva was one of Woodrow’s defensive leaders during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. At the 2007 UIL state track and field meet, Delvin Furlough finished fourth in the 400 meters in Class 4A. Furlough transferred to the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin the following year and won the TAPPS 4A title in the 400.
Smith, who has been playing basketball since she was 5, could also star in track and field. As an eighth-grader, she was named the girls Athlete of the Year at J.L. Long Middle School, which is next to Woodrow Wilson. She won the Dallas ISD eighth-grade championship in the triple jump.
Smith’s proudest athletic achievement so far, she signed through an interpreter, was leading Long to the district title in basketball. She was nervous early this season and felt like she made quite a few mistakes, but now she feels more confident.
She’s just like everyone else, she said.
“I just can’t hear.”
Smith, who was donning lime green nail polish last week and would like to someday own a nail salon, said her coaches have been encouraging. Her teammates also help a lot, and some of them are learning sign language.
Basketball has helped Smith build friendships, but that’s not really a problem for her.
“I’m friends with everybody,” she said.
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter at @mattwixon.