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October 7, 2004

Bridging the communication gap

From: Rockford Register Star, IL - Oct 7, 2004

By MIKE DEDONCKER, Rockford Register Star

She's had to endure a bruised shin and a few smashed toes, but Dawn Decker is holding her own as part of the Rockford College football team.

No, she's not a player. Decker, a free-lance signer hired through the Rockford Area Mobilization Project, is a fixture at Regents' practices and on the sidelines on game days as a sign language interpreter for freshman defensive back Ricky Roggetz. And she says she is getting comfortable with a game she paid little attention to before this season.

"This is the first time I've ever worked on a football team," said Decker, adding that she had to learn new terminology to be able to tell Roggetz what his coaches want. "There's a lot of vocabulary, a lot of football language and figures of speech, that I was not familiar with.

"So, I often have to go to the coaches and ask them, 'You said this, but what does that mean?' and try to get the meaning out of what they're saying."

Regents head coach Mike Hoskins said Decker's service is valuable because he wanted to recruit Roggetz, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound linebacker and running back at Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood, after watching a game video. Roggetz was an All-Interstate 8 Conference selection as well as winning Reed-Custer's most valuable back and "Iron Man" awards.

"We were concerned whether we could service him with his hearing disability," Hoskins said. "We went to our service people and they said, 'Yes, we can'. I watched the film and said, 'If we can service him academically, let's recruit him.

"He's such a good kid. He's quick. He's coachable. He started out at safety, but he runs so well that I like to use him at corner. He does play on special teams, because he is this little bulldog. He's not very big, but he can run."

Hoskins said he worried about Decker's unfamiliarity with football, but concluded she has been "dynamite.

"You're always worried about that when you have someone from the outside coming in. How are they going to mix with the guys and with football? Say what you want, it's a different environment, but she's great, she loves our guys, and we really enjoy having her here.

"We did have to coach her on where to stand and not get run over, though. She's never in the way, but I used to worry about her getting hit and getting run over. Now, she jumps right in there. We consider her one of the staff."

Roggetz, a criminal justice major who has been deaf since birth and who wants to work for the FBI as a lip-reader, said Decker "has been great. She has adapted to football well and she's a big help.

Roggetz began playing football in third grade and established playing college football as a goal early on. He has always had an interpreter such as Decker to assist him and said, "No one has ever tried to tell me that I shouldn't play. I've always had great support, especially from my family."

In addition to the bumps and bruises, figuring out whose coaching Roggetz created early problems for Decker.

"She had a tough time the first day," Hoskins said. "It's the first practice, and we start flying around, and everybody's talking.

"She's trying to sign everything to Ricky and she didn't know who to work off of. She was so flustered I felt bad for her. I told her sign off of Coach (Jeremy) Kasper because he's the defensive backs coach."

Decker agreed the job was overwhelming at the beginning "and a little awkward, but now we're all so used to each other, and I think the team is used to having me around.

"They're very accommodating and I just place myself where I feel that I need to be. The players are very polite and they're very good about just scooching over a few steps."

Decker got the assignment because she was the only signer in Rockford willing to take it and, despite not being a big sports fan, said she would take it again next year if it's offered.

"I'm enjoying it,' she said. "I've never been a big football fan, but working with the team I've grown to appreciate it. I'm having a lot of fun."

On the Web

There are many Web sites devoted to sign language on the Internet. Among them are:
Note: If you go to the logical, you will find a site for humorous roadside signs.

Contact: 815-987-1382;

Copyright © 2004 Rockford Register Star.