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  • Young athletes don’t let hearing impairments get in the way of their dreams.
    12 Dec , 2016

















    Elouisa Segura looked all around the field. It was the first day of fall camp and she didn’t see the interpreter anywhere.


    When she asked Coronado High School football coach Seth Parr if there was an interpreter for her son, Xavier, he told her he didn’t even know if Xavier was coming to practice.


    Segura panicked. Her son is one of two deaf football players on the freshman team this year, and she didn’t know they had to make a special request for an interpreter to come out during football practice and games.


    She decided to stay.


    “The (interpreters) were all out of town for a meeting, and I was there the entire day and I didn’t know the terms,” Segura said. “So I was spelling it out with my hands and doing a lot of motions. For Xavier, always relying on mom is embarrassing. He is my baby, but I knew I was embarrassing him.


    “I was like, ‘It’s football camp, I shouldn’t even be here,’” she said.


    By the end of the day, she had not only a new appreciation for football coaches and interpreters, but also her son.


    “It was a neat experience for me because I got to learn what my son goes through in one day,” she said.


    Xavier is one of three deaf athletes competing this year, all at Coronado, which is the site where deaf and hard of hearing Lubbock Independent School District students attend classes because interpreters are available on campus.


    About three of every 1,000 American children are born with detectable hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


    Many do not participate in organized sports due to communication difficulties; others do play despite their parents’ worries.


    “It was scary (when my son asked me to play football) because I didn’t think they would be fair to him and let him play,” Segura said. “But, I spoke to the coach and I said please just put him on the field one time and let him play. … Seeing him out there amazed me. It brought tears to my eyes.”


    Overcoming fears:


    Benito and Carmen Ramirez stand up and yell in excitement as the Mustangs run onto the field.


    They keep cheering throughout the games they attend, even if their son, Omar, can’t hear them.


    “It gets me excited when we are out in the stands cheering for him as loud as we can,” Benito Ramirez said. “Even though he can’t hear, he knows we are there and we are rooting him on.”


    Freshman football player Omar Ramirez and freshman Alissa Galan, who runs the 1,600 meter for Coronado’s track and field team, are the other two deaf athletes in the district.


    Omar was in the ICU for the first two months of his life and wears hearing aids to fix what his father, Benito, said is at least 80 percent hearing loss.


    But, it hasn’t stopped him.


    “He acts like a normal kid. At first we were at the hospital, in the ICU for two months, and now seeing him play football and do everything — he is like a miracle kid,” Benito Ramirez said. “I saw him a couple of times last year, it just makes me happy, seeing him and doing all these sports.”


    Xavier’s parents, Elousia Segura and Jimmy Flores, said it wasn’t easy when they first found out their son was deaf.


    “I was kind of upset. I just kept asking why my son? I was worried about how he would do in life, like would be left behind and would he be discriminated against like it was in the old days — they would always say the deaf and the dumb,” Flores said. “I was so worried about his future, like what if his mother or me dies — would he be fine without us? But, as he has grown I have discovered that he is going to be a fine young man. He’s a great kid.


    “He has big dreams and we want to push him, so he knows that even though he can’t hear, it doesn’t define him.”


    With resources for deaf children in rural towns scarce, more than 50 school districts have a shared services arrangement with Lubbock ISD, which provides services for deaf students through its Regional Day School Program for the Deaf.


    While the three athletes attend Coronado High in Lubbock, Xavier actually lives in Idalou, Omar lives in Petersburg and Galan and her mother live in Shallowater.


    “When (Omar) was in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers in Petersburg and the principal recognized that he was deaf, and we got him his hearing aids and they told us about the program in Lubbock and to come here,” Benito Ramirez said. “Petersburg just isn’t equipped with the microphone and the teachers that Lubbock has in order to teach deaf students.”


    Lubbock ISD provides an interpreter for any deaf or hard of hearing student who wants to participate in an extracurricular activity.


    “They have the right to have communication access,” said Bill Fuller, Lubbock ISD’s coordinator for the Regional Day School Program for the Deaf. “For safety reasons if they are participating in a sporting event, we have to have somebody that can sign in their communication mode. If we have a swimmer or a football player we know they have to have access, so we contact all of our interpreters and let them know an opportunity exits and our expectation is we want the same interpreter (that they have in class).”


    So, Omar and Xavier both bus in from Idalou and Petersburg — sort of.


    Omar’s aunt drives both of them to school, making the 30-plus-mile trip every morning.


    “In Idalou, I thought (Xavier) was going to suffer; there wasn’t an interpreter and not a lot of deaf kids,” Elouisa Segura said. “I wanted him to be around other deaf kids for him to see that he is not the only one. (Lubbock) is a pace he can understand, if we got an interpreter it would have been too fast for him and he would have gotten lost somewhere in the system.”


    Business as usual:


    A teammate pulls back a tackling dummy and lets it hit Omar, who doesn’t see or hear it coming.


    It pops against him and he turns back to see his teammate laughing.


    But, they’re not hazing him.


    It’s simply a small prank on a friend and teammate. Moments later, Omar and the teammate pull the prank on two other teammates that are not paying attention.


    They laugh together.


    “No, they didn’t know I was deaf (when I first started), but they have been very good (to me) so far,” Omar signed.


    A few minutes later, Ethan Stephens — Omar’s interpreter — bends to the ground quickly and starts counting out the pushups with his fingers.


    Omar goes down with each rep, 1 …2 …3.


    Stephens is usually 2 to 3 feet behind the coaching staff making sure he hears every detail, so he can accurately relay it to him.


    The coaches don’t even acknowledge that anything is unusual about having two interpreters at every freshman football practice.


    “Usually, it is business as usual, you become aware that you will see someone sign and you want to make sure he got the information needed,” Parr said. “(The interpreters) are your voice and they all have done a good job and asked questions when they needed to.


    “But, you don’t treat anyone any different. You tell the refs that you have someone who is hearing impaired. To be conscience of it, to let us talk to them, so they don’t get a late hit.”


    Sometimes Omar doesn’t even need the signs from the interpreter, he can just time the snap right. Other times, he can slightly hear the coach, thanks to the hearing aids tucked underneath his helmet.


    “Yeah, I have to watch more, but it is helpful to be observant,” he signed.


    Omar said he never thought communication at practice or in a game was a problem, nor has Xavier, who can’t detect sound waves and therefore does not use any type of hearing aid, his mother, Elouisa said.


    “I just watch and see what the other players are doing and what coaches are doing, and sometimes the other players will help me with where I need to go,” Xavier signed through an interpreter.


    For the interpreters, knowing sign language isn’t enough. Most plays relay on a series of signals. That means learning both the signal and then relaying what it means to the player.


    “We signal the play in, but it could be something different for them and they have to learn the formations,” Parr said. “It is like learning another language. … You have to really find people who like the game or are very invested to make it work.”


    And everything that could get lost in translation makes parents nervous.


    “The fact that other kids might not know he can’t hear sometimes scares me,” Elousia Segura said. “There might be one time he might not know when to stop pushing. Is the other kid going to get mad because Xavier wasn’t paying attention just once and pushed him when he shouldn’t have? A lot of them are not aware a deaf kid is on the team. Not just one either, but two.”


    “That’s my biggest fear.”


    Flores just wants his son, Xavier, to have a chance.


    “I don’t wanna hold him back in anything. If he says he wants to do it, then I am going to put my best foot forward and help him to do it,” Flores said. “I was worried they would discriminate against him, too, but they treated him like a normal kid and he just plays ball.”


    Xavier though? He just wants to tackle people.


    “I’m proud of my tackling skills,” he signed. “I like hitting people. I do that really well.”


    Love of the game:


    The bang of the gun is so loud, the echo really never leaves Galan while she’s running.


    Each time the guns sound for the start of a race, her Baha — a bone-anchored hearing aid typically used by people who have conductive hearing losses or unilateral hearing loss — rings too loud.


    “I can hear it fine with my hearing aid and it is really loud,” she signed. “Sometimes it hurts my ears.”


    With her Baha in place, her parents were not worried about her not hearing the gun go off, nor were they worried about her getting pinned in during the long runs because she can’t hear the runners behind her.


    They just wanted her to win.


    “My mom said I could (run track) if I wanted and my dad said it was fine,” she signed. “They were a little worried, but only because I need to know what is going on and I want to win.”


    Galan, who has also tried her hand at soccer and tennis, runs nearly every day with her mother, as a way to bond.


    It’s how she got her start and found her drive to join the track team at Coronado and eventually carved out her niche in the 1,600-meter run.


    That bond keeps her running and her love for the track alive.


    It’s a similar drive that fuels Xavier, who decided to play football after seeing an old photo of his dad, Flores, in his Roosevelt football uniform.


    And why he was so frustrated earlier this year.


    For nearly a month, Xavier was convinced he couldn’t play football anymore.


    Earlier in the day, he had failed his stress test after the EKG didn’t come back within the normal range. He was going to have to sit out.


    And he didn’t understand. Xavier thought it was because his mother was worried about him playing football because he was deaf.


    So, he threw his hands in the air and began to sign faster and faster — or “angry sign language,” as his mother called it.


    “He just kept signing ‘It’s over. It’s over’ and then he walked away,” Elouisa Segura said. “He was so mad. He felt perfect and told me there is nothing wrong with him. For a month we went through wondering if he could play football today.”


    Finally, Elouisa Segura took an interpreter to the hospital with her and Xavier in order to help him understand.


    “He’d rather talk to us and he makes some noises (when he is mad), but to me he is a typical teenager that is growing up too fast for me,” she said.


    Those worries began early for most parents of deaf children, Elouisa Segura said, but she wants parents to know they shouldn’t be afraid.


    “At the beginning I was afraid and I felt helpless and I didn’t think my son was going to be able to do things and wouldn’t be treated fairly in life. But we are surrounded by amazing people and if you can find them and get involved you will see a different way and find joy that your kid is able to do things and be a part of a community,” she said. “I am just happy my son is able to play football and people don’t say, ‘Oh, he can’t play because he can’t hear.’


    “If there are more deaf kids who want to play, they need to. They need to forget about their fears and come out and do it.”


    Source: A-J Media
    Image credit: Brad Tollefson/A-J Media
    (Coronado’s Xavier Segura (74) looks away during halftime during a game against Abilene Cooper, at the Coronado practice field in Lubbock, Texas.)