Deaf football: the inspiring story of rising to the top – with a touch of deaftrio

The Deaf Titans claim the championship in the first championships for deaf football in California

Deaf football: the inspiring story of rising to the top – with a touch of deaftrio

When Michael Wells first heard Deaf football would be coming to his community, he thought it would be “cheesy.”

After two years of its development, the Deaf Titans are the reigning champions of the California Deaf Football Association Championships and proud representatives of America’s largest community of the deaf. The squad is determined to put its third consecutive state championship on the board and show that deaf sport has mainstream potential.

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In California, a state with more than 16 million people with moderate to profound hearing loss, there are only two certified learning deaf coaches on the 5,000-strong league. The majority of teams have two to three official deaf football teachers.

“We live in the country, you know?” says Wells, the team’s coach. “They’re going to get it when they get here. You won’t get it when you get here.”

Othmar Flores, Deaf Titan senior from Villa Park. Photograph: Gary Reyes/The Guardian

Michael Wells is one of eight deaf students on his high school’s Deaf Titan football team, a school with just two players. For most of the competition, those two are both deaf. In league play, they regularly play against teams from the so-called mainstream schools – even though those mainstream teams have 10 to 12 learning deaf coaches, a larger staff and more dedicated staff.

Throughout Deaf Titan football’s first three years of existence, Wells’ team has had only one full-time staff member: Shani Ross. She was hired by the league to help with the team.

“It’s a team of individuals, it’s not about one coach or one player,” says Ross. “It’s really about the community coming together.”

As they’ve grown, Ross says they’ve become more independent and can now play with skilled teammates.

State championship banners hang in the locker room at Oaks Christian in El Segundo. Photograph: Gary Reyes/The Guardian

The coach said: “If you saw this team together you wouldn’t even think they are deaf.”

Flores can really visualize a team full of full-time deaf coaches and students.

“The pride in their eyes is special,” he says. “When they see something they can improve, they work to get better.”

California’s California Deaf Football Association created the first annual Deaf Titans Association of California Championships last week to further the team’s development. Unlike others who competed in the regionals, these 10 teams for deaf youth all represent deaf communities across California, including schools and parochial schools.

These schools cannot also afford to hire a full-time teacher to coach them, and if they have staff they don’t have them committed to helping the team learn properly.

“Team work pays off,” says Flores. “That helps those students find their voice.”

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