Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Inside the life of a deaf Dallas high school football player: Is it harder?
The constant clanging of iron weights used by student athletes sounded throughout a workout room at Woodrow Wilson High School. But for varsity football player Montray Roberts, there was silence.
The 17-year-old is deaf, as are some other students who were lifting weights that day at the Dallas ISD campus.
The East Dallas school doubles as a regional school for the deaf, and the staff and students are probably among the most accepting when it comes to those with hearing difficulties. Many of the kids have had deaf classmates since attending regional elementary and middle schools for the deaf that feed into Woodrow.
But now public schools throughout the country are getting the message that disabled students must be included in sports programs at all education levels.
The U.S. Department of Education issued a directive last month that public schools ensure disabled students can participate in extracurricular athletics. If that’s not possible, the schools should provide them with equal alternative options, such as wheelchair basketball.
The directive doesn’t guarantee a spot on the team for disabled students, who must compete against their classmates. But schools must make reasonable modifications to aid the students, unless it jeopardizes safety or fundamentally alters the sport.
At Woodrow, interpreter Brian Hutson does the hearing for deaf athletes. Last week, he stood just feet away as Montray took turns with other students on a weightlifting bench.
Montray said, through Hutson, that he’s enjoyed playing football at Woodrow and has had no problems. The junior running back and defensive back paused in his workout to answer a few questions.
What would he tell students with learning disabilities about playing sports?
“I will tell them that they could play just as equal as the other hearing kids. I would tell them they could play just the same.”
Is it harder to play football being deaf?
“No. Not really.”
Was he scared of what other people might think?
“The first time I was a little bit nervous … because it’s more physical. I didn’t know if it was going to hurt, or not, to get tackled.”
Is he treated like everyone else?
“Oh, yeah. A lot of people are interested to learn sign language because I’m deaf.”
Has he taught anyone sign language?
“Yeah, a little bit.”
Any football plays he doesn’t feel comfortable doing?
His mother, Lasheka Jones, said Montray was born deaf but it wasn’t discovered until he was 1 1/2 years old. She said she has raised her son to be independent and believes that playing a competitive sport has helped his development.
“They need to be competitive to deal with the life issues they will face,” Jones said. “I think that’s good that they’re letting kids with disabilities participate.”
Bobby Estes, Woodrow’s athletic director and longtime head football coach, said the school has had deaf students play various sports, including volleyball and basketball. He said it’s no obstacle, just an extra step of understanding — such as knowing that deaf students are more expressive because they use a visual language.
Estes said that he was so in tune with one student who had played football for three years that he didn’t really need an interpreter to communicate with him.
“He knew football language, and I knew football, so we developed our own little Woodrow football sign language,” he said. “It’s not a hindrance; it’s just another step. And it takes some coordination; you just have to figure out how they learn.”
Estes said there’s only one adjustment he’s made to accommodate Montray: He uses a substitute during punt returns because the play requires a verbal and physical cue.
“I feel very fortunate that we get to deal with deaf ed students because it opened up a whole new world for us, and it allows us to look at different ways of teaching things,” Estes said. “Not hearing is a handicap, but they still make tremendous football players, tremendous athletes.”
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