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September 10, 2003

Quiet Sport; Deaf football player keeps fans cheering

From: Leelanau Enterprise, MI - Sep 10, 2003

Nick Porritt has always been a special kid.

Now, the 5-foot-3, 13-year-old is special to the Suttons Bay’s 7th grade football team.

“He was born in August and by January, I knew he was deaf,” said Joy Porritt, whose sideline cheers can’t be heard by her son on the field.

His brother, Nathan, nine years his senior, is also profoundly deaf. The cause of their deafness is unknown.

“They both have bilateral hearing aids,” said Mrs. Porritt.

Nick played Pop Warner football through the YMCA for the past two years before making the switch to 7th-grade ball this year. He’s the team’s leading scorer.

At his side is Sue Braden, his interpreter since preschool.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I’d be helping Nick on the football field,” said Braden, who has taught her young friend to communicate using “cued” speech. She also takes notes during the school day to supplement what he gathers on his own. The aids help somewhat, but he doesn’t wear them on the football field.

“Nick’s a fabulous lip reader,“ Braden said.

But understanding what is said in the classroom and what’s going on on the football field are two different things.

“Turn the volume down on the television for a few minutes and you’ll know what it’s like,” Mrs. Porritt said.

Nick has to do more than study the offensive and defensive playbook to learn about the team’s plays. He has to read the lips of the quarterback to learn what play is being called.

“He pretty much gets the plays on his own,” Braden said. “It’s a lot of team work for the quarterback to turn toward him…to let him know what to do.”

Alan Crocker, who coached Nick for his two years as a Pop Warner “midget”, said the enthusiastic boy was a “joy” to have on his team.

“During the first year it was easy,” Crocker said, adding that most first-year players only play defense. “It was easy for him because as the team starts to move, he moved.”

As a second-year “midget”, most kids make the transition to offense. And Nick, who is very close with his brother, an outstanding former Norsemen runningback, of course wanted to run.

“I play running back,” Nick said, his blue eyes sparkling.

At first Crocker thought carrying the football would be a problem.

“It was a challenge that was easy to overcome…It requires the quarterback and I to be aware of our diction and look right at him,” Crocker said.

The coach told Nick to start running as soon as he saw the ball snapped.

Nick performed his part to near perfection.

“His blazing speed has always made up for anything he lacks in communication,” Crocker said. “Nick was always where he needed to be.”

The coach’s game plan included a strategy called “Nick’s play”.

“It wasn’t designed around his disability—but his speed,” the coach said. “So often in Pop Warner the mid-field gets congested and you have to run around and out. Nick was our man,” Crocker said.

The coach added that having Braden along interpret was a blessing.

“It’s easy to articulate a short play. But it’s quite different when I’m talking to the entire team…telling them the good things they did in the previous game and what we need to work on,” Crocker said. “It was great that she was able to help him with that.”

One thing that Braden can’t help him with is hearing the official’s whistle, which signals a stoppage of play. The only way for Nick to know that the whistle has been sounded is by watching his lips purse while he blows.

“During practice, we’d run a play and once Nick had his man beat, he’d stop and look back to see that the whistle had blown and play had stopped,” Crocker said. “But I told him, when we’re playing a game run and run fast until you get to the end zone and then you can look back and see all of us smiling.

“We did very well last year and much of the success was due to Nick,” Crocker said.

Nick will play his first seventh grade game on Sept. 17 at Kingsley. In addition to his interpreter, cheers will be offered from his mother, Joy; his dad, Greg; and brother, Nathan. Nick’s sister, Lindsey, is a 2002 Suttons Bay graduate now attending Grand Valley State University.

While Nick won’t hear the cheers, he’ll likely know they are there.

by Amy Hubbell

© 2003 Leelanau Enterprise. All Rights Reserved.