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November 5, 2004

Deaf player hits just fine at Shelby County

From: Louisville Courier Journal, KY - Nov 5, 2004

Berscheit, senior LB, one of team's leaders

By Jody Demling
The Courier-Journal

Fearing for their deaf son's safety, Jon Berscheit's parents didn't allow him to play football as a seventh grader at West Middle School in Shelbyville, Ky.

So over the next year, Berscheit pleaded his case, even getting friends involved.

"We were just worried about him getting hurt," said his mother, Barbara. "Then he really got persistent. He really wanted to play. He was determined."

Berscheit finally received his parents' blessing, and it was the beginning of a success story.

Now a senior at Shelby County High School, Berscheit has become a starting linebacker. The 5-foot-9 180-pounder has more than 70 tackles and has knocked down five passes in two seasons for the Rockets, who will play at 7:30 tonight at Dixie Heights in the first round of the playoffs.

"I've told Jon that of all the players I've coached, he's probably been the most fun," Shelby County coach Todd Shipley said. "We have to have a better relationship because of all the talking we do. But it's been fun to see him progress in four years."

Berscheit, who lost his hearing after a bout with spinal meningitis at 18 months old, knew he would like football if his parents let him try it.

"I always wanted to play," Berscheit said. "They didn't want me to get hurt. It's not hard. I just look at the ball."

Added senior Clayton Aylmer: "It's been so much fun with him on the team. He's the smartest player on the defense and does a great job. He's never wanted to be different, and he's not treated any different."

Berscheit got his start in athletics playing baseball, which he played until last year. But once his parents let him try out for football, he said it quickly became his favorite sport.

Berscheit said members of the coaching staff only have to sign a little because he is such a good lip reader.

"The players and coaches know me well and communicate well," he said. "People who don't know have trouble communicating."

As a sophomore Berscheit also played fullback, but Shipley said it was too hard for him to see when the ball was being snapped. So now he plays only defense.

"He ran the ball hard, but defense is much more suited if you are deaf," Shipley said. "The only problem is the whistle. In practice sometimes we will blow the whistle and then Jon will come in and hit somebody. We meet after practice all the time, and I have to make sure I am looking right at him. Jon is very good at reading lips."

Some suggest that is what makes Berscheit such a talent on the field. He memorizes the signals and watches the quarterback's lips and movement.

"We haven't had to make a lot of changes," Shipley said. "He knows our signals so well, he could probably give them. If he's going to blitz, he can look at the quarterback's lips. He's picked that up."

Off the field, Berscheit is a B student and a jokester. He's made an annual event of imitating players and coaches during a talent show at camp prior to the season. He said he doesn't imitate Shipley because "he's not funny."

"There isn't a dry eye in the house," Shipley said. "It's so funny."

Berscheit's mother said she's not surprised by the success her son has enjoyed.

"He's always been very determined and wanted to fit in," Barbara said. "His personality is such that he's a real determined person and not shy. He never let his disability hold him back for much."

Copyright 2004 The Courier-Journal.