When the California Riverside School for the Deaf varsity football team began the season, they assumed they would suffer another humiliating defeat. After all, for seven straight seasons the Cubs hadn’t come close to a winning one season. In fact, rival teams were guaranteed an easy victory every time they played the hapless team.
Furthermore, they were resigned to being permanent underdogs suffering embarrassment, scorn and contempt, even from their home fans who had simply given up on them.
Moreover, they had given up on themselves, believing their collective handicap of being deaf had permanently sealed their fate as a competitive high school football team, expecting their eighth season to be as humiliating as their last seven.
However, something unusual happened on opening day. The Cubs had scored an unlikely victory against a team that had beaten them time and again. Their second game also proved to be an easy victory.
Physical Ed teacher and Coach Keith Adams (who’s also deaf), along with his two deaf sons began working during the off season on a system of coded hand signals that proved fast and efficient during the opening games, startling their opponents.
Adams recalled how his team was mocked and tormented by a coach openly discussing how embarrassing it would be to lose to a deaf team. From that moment on, Adams vowed to find a way his gifted athletes could communicate in unison on the gridiron, and it appeared he found the answer.
After 11 wins, this Cinderella team is not only undefeated, but also the highest-ranked team in their Southern California division. Even more astounding, they haven’t just beaten their opponents, but are completely dominating them.
With only a few games left in the season, the Cubs are on the threshold of capturing the division championship for the first time in the school’s 68-year history. However, according to Coach Adams, his young players are already winners. “I sometimes still can’t believe how well we played this year,” he said.
Adding; “I knew we were very good, but never in my dreams did I think we would dominate every game.”
The success of the team also puts to rest the longstanding stereotype that deafness is something to overcome in football.
Adams coached the team for two seasons beginning in 2005, left and came back to coach the team again, for another four seasons. This year he was asked to coach again. However, before accepting the position, Adams restructured the team expecting his players to work out rigorously. More importantly, to develop a winning attitude, which was perhaps the hardest challenge to overcome.
He also instilled within each player his philosophy that their handicap can actually be turned into a winning edge, if you know how to use it to your advantage.
In that a handicap like deafness heightens other senses, deaf players for example develop a keener visual sense, making the slightest movement on the gridiron more pronounced.
.@DavidMuir reports on a deaf high school varsity football team in Riverside, California making history as they are now undefeated for the first time in their school’s 68-year history. #PersonsOfTheWeek https://t.co/wIixdvTF1Y pic.twitter.com/tBuhuzGNSU— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) November 20, 2021
And while most teams use hand signals in calling in plays, few can match the unique hand signals created for the Cubs, who communicate with a flurry of hand movements between each play, wasting little time. There are no sideline discussions, no huddles and no wasted time between coaching staff and players.
For players, parents and staff, the success of the Cubs football team is a lot more than simply an athletic triumph. Their victory symbolizes that deaf children do their best within an all-deaf environment.
Delia Gonzales, mother of Felix, a junior and one of the team’s wide receivers, beamed on the sideline on Friday as her son scored two touchdowns.
She recalls how her son began playing football at age 10, surrounded by normal hearing players he couldn’t understand.
The emotional trauma he felt within that environment began taking its toll; “The coach would just talk at him,” Ms. Gonzales said. “He would come home crying.”
Teachers and parents recount how students blossomed in an all-deaf environment.
“Absolutely, this has changed his life,” Ms. Gonzales said of her son. “Now he is one of the stars.”
The varsity football team at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, is undefeated this season.— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 16, 2021
Trevin Adams, the team's quarterback, said playing with fellow deaf teammates is liberating: "We can express ourselves completely. We can be leaders." https://t.co/jmCwrNg0U1 pic.twitter.com/LRqJyDFWas