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February 2, 2005

Speaking with his actions

From: Daily Breeze - Torrance,CA,USA - Feb 2, 2005

With a little help, Gardena junior goalkeeper Terrell Love excels on the soccer field and in the classroom despite a hearing disability.

By Tony Ciniglio

The sun beat down on boys soccer players from Gardena and Carson on a recent Wednesday afternoon. Play had just begun in the Marine League opener for both teams, but most players already were breaking a sweat.

An early whistle from the referee suddenly pierced the air, blowing the play dead.

But Gardena junior goalkeeper Terrell Love kept right on playing, booting the ball with mighty force to midfield.

As the referee reached into his pocket for a yellow card, angry that the goalkeeper ignored his whistle, Gardena defender Mark Mendoza raced over to explain the situation.

"We definitely have to make sure the refs know about him," Mendoza said with a laugh afterward.

Love didn't ignore the whistle. He didn't hear it because he is deaf.

It is one of the few moments when someone on the sideline might notice his disability.

Love doesn't make excuses. He owns up to mistakes and tries to learn from them. It's this kind of attitude that has made him an up-and-coming goalkeeper for Gardena's boys soccer team and a strong defensive end on the football team.

His teachers rave about Love's fastidious nature and his ability to push himself to another level.

He is a perfectionist who holds himself to high standards. It's not enough for him just to be on the football and soccer teams. He needs to be a standout.

Love's focus, however, can't just be about winning games. He had to win over his teammates, which was no small task considering communication can be a challenge.

His speech is difficult to understand, he communicates mostly through sign language and requires a sign-language interpreter in the classroom and at practice.

"He may not speak real clear, but he doesn't miss a thing," Gardena football coach Marshall Jones said.

The biggest difference for Love has been his cochlear implant. After four years on a waiting list, Love received the implant at age 14. It's a device designed to restore a level of hearing to completely deaf patients by electronic stimulation of the auditory nerve.

"If I didn't have that, I would hear nothing," Love said through his interpreter.

Fitting in

The biggest obstacle facing Love in sports, and in life, is communication.

His sign-language interpreter helps. But how was he going to respond to teammates who have a difficult time understanding him? In fact, how were those same teammates going to treat him in general?

Onya Jones, his interpreter, said that a handicapped athlete's success hinges on the coach.

"If a coach is willing to give them a chance, they will shock people with their skill level and how they can keep up," said Jones, a 15-year veteran of the L.A. Unified School District.

Love's teammates, however, admitted they were cautious at first.

"At first, we were a little worried. We weren't sure he was going to be as reliable as we wanted him to be," said Mendoza, a defensive captain who has been one of Love's biggest advocates. "But after a few games, we realized he was pretty good."

Gardena assistant principal Kevin Kilpatrick, who coached at San Pedro for five years, said Love would have started on any of his Pirate teams.

"When you block a PK (penalty kick), you tend to make a lot of friends," Kilpatrick said.

Gardena has made newcomers feel welcome. Forward Franck Kanhan, who hails from the Ivory Coast and speaks fluent French and English, was accepted right away and began trying to learn Spanish to relate to his teammates.

The Panthers are quick to include Love in soccer talk or to give him a thumbs-up. Even Victor Angeles, a transplant from Mexico who speaks little English, talks to Love through hand signals. When the interpreter can't be there, they try to communicate through hand signals and on notepads.

"It's important to make sure we all talk to him, that he understands what he's doing right and what he needs to work on," Mendoza said. "We also want him to feel accepted and that he's part of the team."

Love said he feels a sense of belonging, particularly with the soccer team.

"They accept me," Love said. "My deafness is not a factor with them. I felt fine when I joined the team. It was not awkward."

Last line of defense

A cascade of excited Spanish reverberated throughout Gardena's stadium as Carson mounted a counter-attack. Osward Rodriguez had one man to beat and took a shot, but it was somehow blocked by Love at point-blank range. Rodriguez recovered and immediately took another aim at goal, but Love again made the save.

It was an important first-half sequence. Gardena scored the only goal in a Marine League-opening victory over Carson.

"Goalkeepers are the last line of man on defense, it's the hardest position in soccer," Gardena coach Martin Mira said. "It takes special individualized skills and mental toughness, and they cannot make any mistakes because if they do, it usually ends up costing a goal. It's one of those positions where you can't be intimidated and you can't be afraid to hit people. It's a good position for Terrell.

"From close range, Terrell's reflexes and reactions are so quick. Some keepers at close range, they happen to make the right play at the right time, and the ball hits their knee. But Terrell actually gets his hand on these shots."

Love certainly has held his own for Gardena this year. While goalkeeping is still relatively new to him, he has recorded three shutouts and has made several spectacular saves on point-blank shots and penalty-kick attempts, helping Gardena to an 8-4-2 overall record. The Panthers are in second place in the Marine League at 3-2-1.

"Even the guys who come to watch the games end up talking about Terrell and the plays he makes," Mendoza said. "It looks like he's flying out there, that's how crazy some of his saves are."

"Sometimes I'm lucky," Love said.

Mira originally tried to use him as a field player, but that was a short-lived experiment. Mira said he was too aggressive on the field and posed the risk of hurting players. Love informed Mira he had some experience at goalkeeper and a match was made.

Mira saw Love's potential at the junior varsity level last year and began working with Love one-on-one over the summer. Love beat out Gustavo Poblano for the job early in the season. That has been a blessing for Gardena because Poblano has emerged as a viable scoring threat, joining Kanhan and Noe Umana up front.

"I was on JV with him last year, and to be honest, I didn't think he'd be this good this quickly," Gardena defender Enrique Gonzalez said. " But I have a lot of confidence in him now. Coach picked him, and he hasn't let us down."

Gridiron warrior

Every Friday night in the fall, Love's family members came to the Gardena football games, decked out in jerseys with Love's No. 47 on them. They sat together in the stands, near a small group of other deaf students who came to cheer one of their own.

It's been a ritual the last two years.

At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Love displayed enough speed and strength that Jones wanted to put him on the varsity team as a defensive end when he first came out for the team last year.

His mother, Joanne Punch, however, insisted he start at the freshman/sophomore level. His mother worried about injuries, especially since he was not used to the varsity pace.

"The doctors didn't want him playing football at all," Punch said. "All his life, though, he wanted to play football. He told me before last year, 'Mama, if you let me play football, I'll be happy for life.' How am I supposed to argue with that?"

Love dominated at the frosh/soph level, racking up 15½ sacks. An ankle injury slowed the start of his varsity season this fall, but Love quickly became a force, getting seven sacks on Gardena's vaunted defense that yielded just 16.5 points per game.

"The thing that makes him so active is that he's got a lot of natural skill, and he does so many things you just can't teach," Marshall Jones said. "His pass rush is relentless. He doesn't lift weights that much, but he's naturally strong, and he creates mismatches because of his size and speed. When we put him on our scout team defense, we have a hell of a time blocking him."

The football team, like the soccer team, made an extra effort for Love.

Love always received the first choice of helmets to protect his cochlear implant as much as possible. Jones said the players came up with their own hand signals to communicate with him during the game. Love also had a wristband with all the defensive plays, much like a quarterback, so when Jones or another coach signaled in the play, Love knew what was coming.

In one game against San Pedro, the normally reserved Love gave his own form of trash talking with some gestures after sacking quarterback Dustin Garneau.

"My only frustration is that he's such a neat kid, I wish he was able to talk more because I think it would be kind of fun to get to know his true personality," Marshall Jones said.

Life without sound

Punch's only son was just 5 months old when she learned about his deafness.

One day, Punch, her sister and a few of their friends were watching a soap opera while her son napped. During a climatic scene, the entire group let out a loud reaction that should've awoken Love. When he didn't stir, his mother began wondering about his hearing and gave him the "pots and pans" test, but did not receive a reaction after banging them near Love. Only when she hit the floor right next to him did she receive a reaction.

A pediatrician confirmed Love's deafness. He was diagnosed with profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, which represents a hearing threshold of 70 decibels or less, the most severe.

A cochlear implant has been Love's saving grace. It transforms sound waves into vibrations that he can feel. It consists of a microphone, an external signal processor, an external transmitter, an internal receiver and electrode array implanted in the cochlea.

The cochlear implant has allowed Love to attend a mainstream school after bouncing around different specialized schools growing up.

Gardena's hard-of-hearing Special Day Program, with teachers trained to teach the deaf, has 22 students. Other schools equipped with deaf services include L.A. Wilson, Birmingham, Granada Hills and Marlton (Crenshaw District). LAUSD has approximately 300 hard-of-hearing students in the specialized programs.

Love's favorite teacher, the program's David Elliott, is hard of hearing, and his other specialized teacher, Susan Margolin, is deaf. Love also takes three mainstream classes with a sign-language interpreter in tow.

"It's important they have access to as much of the curriculum as any other student," said Gardena assistant principal Viki Newman, who has two deaf nieces and served as Love's counselor the past two years. "The thing about Terrell is that he's taken full advantage of that. He wants to stretch his boundaries."

Clarence Gloss, Love's wood shop teacher, said that Love has a refreshing attitude. This is Love's second year in one of Gloss' classes. Love was one of just three students out of 25 to receive an 'A' from Gloss.

"He's really picky about his work," Gloss said. "If he messes up, he starts over. All his projects are right on the money. He doesn't fool around. For some students, they take three weeks on a project, but Terrell normally finishes in a week. He's like clockwork."

Gloss said having the sign-language interpreter is a big plus for Love. Gloss goes over each project by placing the directions on the chalkboard and going through it step by step, whether it's a jewelry box, a checkerboard, a birdhouse or a pencil holder, and the sign-language interpreter helps get Love off and running.

"He doesn't like anyone to baby him," Gloss said. "He does his own thing. The interpreter's excellent and helps him understand the assignment, but he's not like some kids who want someone else to do everything for them. He takes pride in his work."

Home sweet home

Most people who know Love give tribute to his mother.

"His mother is his greatest champion and advocate," said Newman, the assistant principal. "One of the things that makes him different from others in his situation is that his family is so supportive and encourages him to go beyond his level. His family never treats his deafness as a handicap."

Punch, a single mother, said she had not seen "eye to eye" with the boy's father, who lives in Colorado. He still keeps in touch with Love, but his mother said he does not make the decisions about Love.

Love and his mother have always been close. They take trips together every summer. They've been to Jamaica (three times), Aruba, Santo Domingo, Trinidad (his mom's native country) and the Bahamas.

He still has those teenage moments with his mother though.

"He says I embarrass him," Punch said. "He always says he's 18 and he wants to learn himself. I also wouldn't let him get a job or drive, but the driving was more of a timing issue. I promised to practice with him over the summer.

"He wants the big words when I translate for him. I tend to simplify the word, make it easier to understand, and he wants to hear the big words."

Before he entered high school, Love and his mother moved from their apartment at Crenshaw and Adams to a three-bedroom house near Gage and Hoover. His home school would have been Fremont. His mother acknowledged it's a "rougher neighborhood. You don't go out front too often."

Love's bedroom is his sanctuary. His walls are adorned with posters of his interests, ranging from sports stars Brett Favre, Terrell Owens and Tracy McGrady to "The X-Files" and WWE wrestling. He has four trophies and 10 medals he earned playing youth sports.

He watches plenty of television, particularly the Cartoon Network, with closed captioning so he understands the plots.

Then there's his passion for movies. He has an extensive collection of VHS tapes and DVDs of his favorite movies stacked neatly in his room. He particularly enjoys action movies with a strong protagonist. His favorite is "Batman" and he feels a special connection with "Daredevil" in particular.

Love can listen to music as well. He prefers rock 'n' roll because it has a stronger bass, and he can feel those vibrations more. His favorites are female rocker Pink and Limp Bizkit, his mother said, shaking her head as she translates.

"It's not the words so much, it's the beat," she said. "When I tell him the words, he just laughs.

"He's so sensitive and sweet."

Then she gets a gleam in her eye that most mothers do when talking about their children.

© 2005 Daily Breeze, Copley Press, Inc.,