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Deaf player has keen sense for football

Chicago Sun Times, IL - Aug 29, 2003

BY TINA AKOURIS Staff Reporter

Reed-Custer's Ricky Roggetz is a typical high school football player who plays two ways and wants to continue the sport in college.

But there's one thing about Roggetz that is atypical--he was born deaf.

Roggetz, a 5-10, 155-pound senior fullback-linebacker, begins his final campaign tonight at 7:30 when the Comets host Plano.

Reed-Custer coach Dean Cappel said he has coached a deaf player before, so there wasn't much of an adjustment when Roggetz came.

"I had previously coached at Clifton Central where we had Luke Wolf, who was a deaf player there,'' Cappel said. "We have few communication problems. Everyone communicates physically to [Roggetz] to get his attention.''

Roggetz is partially deaf when he wears hearing aids in both ears, but without them he is totally deaf. His mother, Tonida Roggetz, said Ricky was born with progressive hearing loss and was 50 percent deaf at birth.

Although he is an excellent lip reader, Roggetz has help in the classroom from interpreter Sherry Nichols and on the field from Ben Baer, both school employees.

Baer is on the sideline during games and uses sign language to communicate plays, but he also relies on other players for help.

"Ricky reads lips really well,'' Baer said. "I try to sign him from the sidelines, and on defense he has the kids give him signs [for what plays to run]. He has another interpreter during the school day, but he's pretty functional. He gets by on his own.''

Roggetz considers himself a very physical player who is always aware of what's going on during a game. He thinks that his freshman season with Ridgewood, against bigger and more competitive schools, helped him develop as a football player.

And he doesn't have many difficulties on the field or from other players. Roggetz's deafness is accepted.

"I make sure I know the assignment and know what's going on,'' Roggetz said, through Baer.

Roggetz started playing organized football in third grade and transferred from Ridgewood after his freshman year. He also played hockey until eighth grade.

"I don't play other sports [at Reed-Custer] because our school doesn't have hockey,'' said Roggetz, who also likes jet-skiing and wakeboarding.

Tonida Roggetz was worried when Ricky decided to play football, but not about him getting seriously injured because of his deafness.

"I was worried about him causing penalties like going offside because of him being deaf and not hearing the whistle,'' Tonida Roggetz said. "But that never happened. And when the kids realized he was deaf, they were phenomenal.''

Cappel's favorite Roggetz story illustrates how the deafness isn't an issue.

"As a sophomore when he came into our school, some of the coaches thought the communication problems would detract from the team,'' Cappel said. "One night at Coal City the starting middle linebacker was absent, and we put Ricky in the lineup. He ended up having 18 or 19 tackles that night.''

Copyright 2003, Digital Chicago Inc.


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