Smiling in Silence: Antoine Dinka Makes Up in Personality What He Lacks
Oct. 2, 2003
Toledo, OH - His arrival at the classroom creates a wave of nervous energy and excitement. But there are no shouts, no yelling, not the usual sounds you would expect to hear from a group of excited elementary school children. Just a few muffled squeals and the frantic movements of little hands. Their hands are talking. He's here! He's really here!
The children, a class of hearing-impaired youngsters at Toledo's Oakdale Elementary School, have been waiting for Antoine Dinka. A freshman defensive lineman for the University of Toledo, Dinka is having a nice rookie season for the Rockets, playing on the kickoff team. But to these children, Dinka is a star. They read about him in the newspaper and he instantly became their hero.
A deaf football player at UT! Deaf! Just like us! And now he's here, he's really here. He came here to see us!
Excitement turns to nervousness. The children seem a bit intimidated, perhaps, by a celebrity in their midst. A big grin from this gentle giant quickly puts them at ease. He plunks himself down in the semi-circle of children. They stare in awe. Their hero is sitting with them, right here in their class room.
Hi, his hands say. My name is Antoine. May I sit here? How are you? What's your name?
One by one he asks their names, asks them how they like school, what they like to do for fun. It's soon evident that he's a natural with children. He tells them that he was just like them once, just a kid in school who studied hard and never let his inability to hear stop him from doing whatever he wanted. There is nothing you can't do, he tells them. Whatever you want to do, you can do it.
It is over far too soon. They give him drawings they have made of him playing football. He hands out Rocket t-shirts and posters, poses for photos and gives every child a warm bear hug before saying good-bye. The children, it seems, are not the only ones moved by the experience.
"Yes, I enjoy doing that. It makes me feel good talking to kids," Dinka says later through an interpreter. "I used to speak with deaf children back in Texas. It reminds me of home."
Freshman defensive lineman Antoine Dinka has played on the Rockets' special teams this year.
Home for Dinka is Dallas, a football-crazy city that helped ignite his passion for the game. Deaf since he was 18 months old due to a bout of bacterial meningitis, Dinka nevertheless excelled in sports, and eventually gave football a try. His parents, immigrants from Cameroon, were dubious of the American game, but eventually relented and let him play football on his seventh-grade team. He excelled immediately, and later became a standout defensive lineman at suburban Plano High School. He was good enough to attract a few Division I-A schools, including the University of Toledo. Dinka picked UT as much for its academic environment as for its football.
"I knew Toledo had a good football team, but I also knew from talking to other deaf students that Toledo was a good place to go to school, they had things in place for deaf students," Dinka said. "I didn't mind moving far away from home. Getting a good education is the most important thing."
Dinka, who plans to major in business, is one of six deaf students at UT who are served by three full-time interpreters working out of the Office of Accessibility. He has an interpreter for every class, every practice and every game. By all accounts, he is fitting in very nicely with his teammates and coaches, too.
"At first I wondered how he was going to get the (defensive) calls," said teammate Frank Ofili. "But I didn't realize he was going to have an interpreter with him 24/7. And he's doing a good job of picking things up."
"Antoine has been great for this team," said Head Coach Tom Amstutz. "He's a fine player and an inspiration to our players. They respect him for what he's accomplished. He also has a very likeable personality. Everybody likes Antoine."
The coaches have liked Dinka enough to let him play as a true freshman. He has played in all five games so far this season, mostly on special teams, making three tackles. He has outstanding speed for a lineman, though he needs to add some weight to his 6-2, 217-pound frame if he's going to go to battle with the 300-pound big uglies on a regular basis. A move to linebacker could be a possibility, though the extra communication duties of that position could be a challenge for him.
"Maybe I'll play linebacker some day, who knows?" said Dinka. "I feel like that is my natural position. But I'll play wherever the coaches put me. However it works out is fine with me."
So far, things have worked out just fine for Antoine Dinka at the University of Toledo. And UT is probably a better place because of it.
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