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December 2, 2004

North Mesquite player doesn't see deafness as problem

From: Dallas Morning News, TX - Dec 2, 2004

By BEN VOLIN / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

A casual observer at a North Mesquite girls basketball game would not immediately pick up on the distinction.

It might take a quarter or even a half to realize that one player rarely stops when an official's whistle blows. It might take longer to notice that player's frequent glances to the bench, where her "translator" uses sign language to relay coaching instructions.

That player is senior forward Jana Bishop, who is deaf.

But Bishop, her teammates and her coach scoff at the notion that that makes this team different or remarkable. In their estimation, Bishop is a high school athlete. Nothing more. Nothing less.

"She accepts her deafness, and she feels like it doesn't matter if she's deaf. She sees herself just as a girl playing basketball," said translator Mary Tobola. "She feels this year's team is really good in that area, trying to sign and trying to communicate with her to make her feel a part of the team."

Bishop is the youngest of seven children and began playing basketball with her older siblings when she was 2 years old. Both of her parents were high school athletes, and Bishop said she is thankful she was blessed with their athletic talents. The 19-year-old hopes to attend Brigham Young next year, just like the rest of her family did.

She has dealt with her disability her entire life, so she doesn't feel like she's overcoming adversity when she's on the court. But few other deaf students at North Mesquite have ever played sports. She is a role model to them, because she refuses to limit herself.

"I think she is a leader," coach Paul Gardner said. "She doesn't want to feel special. She wants to make sure that she's part of the team. She does have this limitation, but she doesn't see it like that."

"When she wears her hearing aids, she can maybe hear the noise of a truck blasting its horn while barreling down the highway. But that's about it. And she can't wear her aids on the court, because the sweat will ruin them.

"She has to rely on her other senses," said Gardner, who never coached a deaf player before Bishop made the team last season. "A lot of people think it's wins and losses. Sometimes, it's just working with kids. That's what teaching and coaching's all about. She just brings a different gift to the program."

Tobola, an avid sports fan whose three daughters played high school basketball, has been on the bench since Bishop joined her middle school's basketball team in the seventh grade. When Gardner wants to switch from man-to-man defense to zone or call an offensive set, Tobola has to figure out a way to translate basketball jargon into sign language.

"Because I know the game, I can interpret things in a way she can understand," Tobola said. "When they change the plays, if they don't sign it, it's hard, and then she has to depend on looking over to the sidelines at me to make sure that she sees it."

Gardner expects Bishop to average 12 to 16 minutes per game this season and contribute a few points here and there.

But "White Lightning," as she is often called, also runs sprints as a four-year letterwinner on the track team and can run circles around her opponents on the court.

Bishop actually lives in the Poteet district, but all deaf students from the area attend the Mesquite Regional Day School for the Deaf at North Mesquite. The school also offers American Sign Language classes that count toward any student's foreign language requirement.

Tobola teaches at the school.

One player on the team, senior guard Amanda Bingham, has been friends with Bishop since middle school. She takes ASL classes and is the only player on the team who can communicate easily with Bishop.

That's not to say other teammates are distant. They offer smiles rather than words of encouragement, they sit next to her on the team bus and include her in activities as best they can.

She still is, after all, a high school senior trying to fit in with the crowd.

"Having her on the team makes team chemistry a lot better than most teams because we get to experience something new, and we get to learn how to overcome [adversity]," Bingham said. "I respect her a lot, because she has a lot of patience."


© 2004 Dallas Morning News