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October 5, 2002

Two Bryan football players tackle deafness

From: Bryan College Station Eagle Post, TX
Oct. 5, 2002

Eagle Staff Writer

As varsity defensive tackle Jasmine Hornsby rammed a tackling block Wednesday afternoon, pushing it a few feet across the Bryan High practice field, coach David Powers liked what he saw.

“Nice!” he said, clapping his hands. But Hornsby, with his back turned to get back in line with his teammates, seemed not to notice.

“Nice!” Powers repeated, this time waving his hands over his head to get Hornsby’s attention. Instead of applauding again, Powers accompanied the compliment with an enthusiastic swoop with his right hand, grazing the upturned palm of his left hand.

It was the American Sign Language way of saying “nice.”

Powers, who is the defensive line coach, has been trying to teach himself a little sign language lately. With two deaf players on the varsity team — Hornsby, a junior, and senior running back B.J. Hester — he knows it can only help.

“Jasmine has been a big plus for us this year,” Powers said. “He’s come a long way.”

Just a year ago the coaches weren’t sure if the two were even going to be able to play. It had nothing to do with their abilities as players, but with the inadequacies of the coaches to adapt to a deaf player, Powers said.

“There was a lot of information we were going to have to learn,” Powers explained. “It really challenged the whole way I teach. It wasn’t his responsibility, it was mine. But I’m getting better. Thank God for his patience.”

Although Hornsby lives in Bryan and Hester in Navasota, the two grew up together. Hester commutes to Bryan each day for the school district’s strong deaf education program. It wasn’t until middle school that the two took the leap from backyard games to team sports.

“This has been a strength for us,” Head Coach Marty Criswell said of their presence on the team. “In Bryan we celebrate our diversity. To add this element to it only enhances what we’re already doing.

“This is something that makes our team better. And it adds to the overall educational experience of everyone on the football team.”

If it wasn’t for an interpreter standing on the sidelines, Criswell said, he doubts anyone in the stands or on opposing teams would have any idea that two of the players were deaf.

On the field they are just two other players.

“And that’s what they want,” he said. “We’re all blue and silver out here. You leave your individual identity at the door.”

Criswell does alert officials before each game so no one will think they are being ignored.

However, there are some differences between themselves and the other players, Hornsby and Hester said.

“We have to watch the ball more and work a little harder,” Hester signed while on the practice field Wednesday. “Deaf people use their eyes more.”

He admits he was excited when he realized he made it to the varsity team, but he also was a little surprised.

“I didn’t think I’d make it because I don’t hear well,” he signed. “But I just wanted to go for it.”

At first, Hornsby added, it was a little hard for them to communicate with teammates. But they were able to teach them a little about signing. Both can also read lips.

Interpreters also accompany the two at practice.

“I can play better on one leg than you can with two,” signed an interpreter earlier this week, relaying a playful taunt to Hornsby from teammate Stephen Mackey. As Mackey assumed a fight stance, smiling, Hornsby shrugged it off. “I don’t want to hurt you,” Hornsby joked back.

Because all the players already rely on signals sent by the coaches to denote which play they want, the two say they don’t even have much use for an interpreter when on the field.

In fact, Hornsby’s deafness might even give him a slight advantage as a defensive tackle, Powers said. Unlike other teammates, Hornsby won’t be fooled by snap counts and accidentally go offsides.

While this will be Hester’s last year, Powers said he expects Hornsby, who is still a junior, to fit more and more into the team’s game plan as time goes on. In fact, Hornsby has probably been the team’s most improved player, he said.

Criswell agreed, predicting that by next year Hornsby might be one of the team’s best players. But he also commended Hornsby and Hester for the persistence they have shown this season.

“Football is such a demanding game,” he said, explaining that there is a steady stream of students coming into his office to rattle off excuses why they can’t participate in the sport.

“I have the greatest respect for anyone who can stick it out. These guys could have built-in excuses, but instead they overcome the additional obstacles. That’s what I admire most in players — persistence and overcoming challenges.

“These guys are my heroes,” Criswell said.

• Craig Kapitan’s e-mail address is
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