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November 1, 2004

Deaf teammates get in the game at Pearce

From: Dallas Morning News - Dallas,TX,USA - Nov 1, 2004

By MATT JACOB / The Dallas Morning News

RICHARDSON – Precious seconds tick off the clock late in the fourth quarter, and Richardson Pearce is mired in a tight football game. The tension isn't lost on defensive end Tyrone Denson, and he pleads for fans to make noise to rattle the opponent.

Denson walks toward the stands, exhorting the crowd with his arms. The crowd responds without hesitation, and the sounds of their boisterous chants and clanging of cowbells fill the night air.

"I may not be able to hear them, but that doesn't mean they're not there and others can't," Denson said. "If they get loud enough, I can see the other team's offense getting nervous. And I like that – a lot."

Denson and teammate Keith Holmes have more in common than simply starting for Pearce. Both have been deaf since an early age, though what many might perceive as a handicap has been anything but for these seniors.

With the help of interpreter Andrea Raye, who attends each of Pearce's practices and games, the two never miss what happens on and off the field. Raye uses sign language to help them understand what their coaches and teammates are saying.

Pearce coach Bobby Reyes first noticed their athletic ability when Holmes and Denson were at Richardson North Junior High. Holmes is a two-year starter at wide receiver. His speed made him an instant success in Pearce's pass-oriented offense. Denson's strength is important on the defensive line, but he also has seen time at linebacker and cornerback.

Reyes said there were no reservations within the coaching staff to include Denson and Holmes on the team.

"If we had lower expectations for them because they are deaf, we would be doing them and the rest of our kids a big disservice," Reyes said. "They're not looking for any special treatment, and I think that's how they've been so successful."

Getting information from the sideline hasn't been a problem, either. Holmes can read lips, and he focuses on doing so whenever a teammate brings a play in to the huddle. The defense, however, doesn't rely on a huddle and instead uses a numbering system. Players look for a signal from defensive coordinator Mike Haney and line up in the corresponding formation they find on a wristband.

Many teammates knew the two in junior high and began learning sign language then, and coaches – especially position coaches Bill Ringler and Chad McCutchen – have gradually followed suit.

Denson lost his hearing when he was 9 months old after contracting meningitis. Holmes learned to talk but said he became deaf around age 3 or 4, the byproduct of a high fever. Neither remembers what it was like to be a hearing person.

"The only thing that separates Keith and Tyrone from anyone else is that they can't hear," Raye said. "But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they go about life as normal teenagers. And with that kind of mind-set, they blend in with every other boy who plays football."

Holmes and Denson will never experience hearing their names called over the loudspeaker after a touchdown or impressive tackle. They can't savor the bands, the fans and all the other sounds of Friday night football.

But does missing out make them any less thankful for what they have been given – the chance to play alongside their peers?

"I'm happy being deaf. I'm happy with who I am," Holmes said. "If I had hearing the next day, I'd be thankful just the same, but I have never felt any different on the football field than a hearing person. They make us feel like we don't have a handicap."


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