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October 7, 2003

Impairment doesn't limit Cubs

From: Imperial Valley Press, CA - Oct 7, 2003

By ERIC GALVAN , Sports Editor

Up by more than 30 points, the Imperial High junior varsity football team gives up a touchdown late in its game Thursday.

The opposing team, obviously in no position to win the game, celebrates the score as if it were a game-winner.

Following the Imperial blowout, the opposing team's coach is asked if coaching his team is worth it.

Knowing his team can't practice on a regular basis, doesn't have a weight program and will more than likely lose the majority of its games, the coach doesn't hesitate with his answer.

"Is it worth it? Definitely. It's all worth it," coach Mike Butterfield says.

Butterfield's team is a little different, but not so much that it can't compete. What's different is that all the players and most of the coaches are deaf.

The team represents the California School for the Deaf, Riverside. And this particular team — the junior varsity — is the first J.V. team the school's fielded in nearly 20 years.

As a state-funded school, the team doesn't have a weight room and because some players are either bused or flown in weekly, daily practices are difficult to schedule.

"We do have our difficulties and we are limited because some of the kids live out of town," said Butterfield, in his third year as a coach of the Cubs.

Hearing impairment, though, is one of the last things the players let get in their way.

"To us, yeah, we wanna win. We're here to play football and if we lose, we handle it," said Butterfield.

Butterfield, the only coach on staff able to hear, communicates with his players and fellow coaches using sign language.

Some hearing-impaired football teams use the vibration of a bass drum to relay plays, which the Cubs used to do, but these days, signing is their form of communication.

"We ask the officials before the game if we can be on the field to relay the plays by signing," said Butterfield. "And the refs don't have a problem with that."

"The thing is that with our kids, it's all visual, so they really need to pay attention to each coach," said Butterfield. "When they're on the field and they're not paying attention, then we'll make some mistakes. So paying attention to us is very important."

Because the J.V. team is the first the school's had in more than 15 years, many of the players are playing football for the first time.

One of those players, Matthew Slagle, had the full support of his parents when wanting to play. Instead of coddling his son and being overprotective as some parents can be, Randy Slagle, Matthew's father, was all for his son taking to the gridiron.

"When he asked me, I just said, ‘Go ahead,'" Randy Slagle said. "I've kinda taken the opposite approach with Matthew than some parents do with their kids."

"With us, extreme sports is one of the popular things we like to do, like motorcross. And we already have it planned out that when he turns 18, we're taking him skydiving."

If Slagle is willing to let his son be involved in motocross and skydiving, football is definitely no problem.

"We had him in karate when he was younger and he excelled in it. He competed in tournaments and did well," said Slagle. "Whatever he wants to do, anything being physical, I'm all for it."

What Slagle is also for is attending all his son's games. He was one of the few who traveled from Riverside County to the Valley for the game. And when the team is scheduled to play in Fremont later this season to play the California School for the Deaf of Northern California, he plans on being there, too.

"I promised him at the beginning of the season that I'd make every game and I'll do my damnedest to make every game," said Slagle. "It's just showing support for him and the rest of the kids on the team."

Also supporting the Riverside squad is the school's J.V. cheerleading team. With cheer coach Stacey Hausman shouting out the cheers and performing sign language along with her squad, the Cubs' cheerleaders made their presence felt.

"We travel wherever the team goes and we cheer for football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling ... all the sports," said Hausman. "We come out to show our support."

Now 1-3, the Cubs will continue to play non-hearing impaired teams and will more than likely run into more 30-point blowouts. But for Butterfield, the outcome of games doesn't really matter.

"Me, I was raised in a deaf household and my dad graduated from this school, so it's like I'm carrying this tradition," said Butterfield. "So being here, it doesn't matter if we win or lose. It's all worth it and I wouldn't give it up for anything."

Copyright © 2003