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Friday Night Lights, Sense of purpose,1299,DRMN_416_3242015,00.html

The joy for the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind is that it's a total team effort - and then some

By Clay Latimer, Rocky Mountain News
October 9, 2004

COLORADO SPRINGS - There was plenty to brag about, plenty to shout about.

But after scoring on a slick run in the third quarter, Sam Harris and his teammates bypassed the theatrics common on high school football fields across America. Instead, they celebrated quietly with muted gestures and hugs.

It was all they could do.

In the unusual subculture of Colorado eight-man football, where even the dimensions of the field are different, no team marches to its own special beat like the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

The Bulldogs can't hear the cheering of the crowd or the smack of a head-on tackle. They don't know a play has come to an end unless they see it. They rely on sign language or touch to communicate. And several players are football neophytes, which makes for long afternoons.

But that hasn't stopped coach Joe Manson, who is deaf - as are his wife, parents and grandparents. It hasn't slowed Austin Balaich, a sophomore lineman and member of the school's Academic Bowl team, which won the National Academic Bowl for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students.

And it certainly hasn't discouraged Harris, who rushed for 514 yards against Boulder Justice last month, which was the third-best single-game mark in state history and thrilled students on the quaint 37-acre campus near downtown Colorado Springs.

"(Students) in the middle school, they said, 'Wow, you rushed for 500 yards!' " Harris said. "The school gets more excited about it. It makes an impression."

Added Manson: "It's one of my special moments of coaching at this school. It was amazing."

Action on the sideline

Every CSDB game amazes in different ways.

In the heat of the action, Manson and his players look like frantic charade players, flashing hand signals to convey everything from formations to congratulations.

On the sideline, cheerleaders encourage the team with silent chants. In the bleachers, fans hold their hands over their heads and wiggle their fingers, rather than applaud, when the team scores.

The student manager plays a major role, too, standing on the sideline next to a huge bass drum. Because the players cannot hear the quarterback call a cadence at the start of each play, the manager strikes the drum at the appropriate time. The vibration carries down the line of scrimmage, and the ball is snapped.

"This isn't abnormal - it's just not the normal," said Cheryl Balaich, Austin's mother.

"We moved because we really like the deaf culture, the deaf environment. It's a very tight-knit family. When you're truly deaf, I think, that's important. I think a lot of it is self-esteem and self-worth. They feel like they can excel and be themselves and enjoy being around people."

The school opened in 1874 as the Institute for the Education of Mutes, when Colorado still was a territory. The school posted lookouts to watch for dust clouds that might indicate an Indian attack. That threat passed, and the school endured and expanded.

Today, the campus includes stately stone buildings, a cafeteria, technology labs, dormitory rooms and athletic facilities that serve 280 students, ranging from preschoolers to young adults, about 50 percent of whom live on campus.

The goal: make students self-sufficient, which is where football comes into play.

Learning experience

"I want to win all the games," said Manson, who was an assistant coach for two seasons before becoming head coach in 2003. "But that isn't realistic. I believe what we do in practice and games will apply in their lives. When they graduate, they'll remember what they have learned through experience.

"I'm proud of being deaf. I was taught by my parents that I had to do twice as good as hearing people to get recognition among the community. . . . I won't stop my world just for the hearing. I can set a good example to young kids - that we can do many things."

CSDB won the eight-man state title in 1977, the high point in the program's history. But by 1989, the Bulldogs had dropped to six-man and were struggling to find enough players to field a team. Blind students have participated, but this year's team is completely made up of players who are deaf or have severe hearing impairments.

The Bulldogs traveled to New Mexico School for the Deaf in late September and will play host to Iowa School for the Deaf on Oct. 16. The visitors stay in the home team's dorm for a couple of days, sharing meals, participating in social activities and forming friendships that continue through e-mail.

"The deaf world is a very small community. Deaf people know deaf people all over the United States. (The trips) are a cultural tool," Manson said.

But football bragging rights are important, too.

"When they play other deaf teams, the kids kind of banter back and forth," Cheryl Balaich said. "Regular teams talk smack back and forth on the line, and so do these kids."

Coming home

Watching her son play high school football is what Balaich dreamed of when she and her family moved from Indiana to the Colorado Springs area several years ago. When she attended her first CSDB homecoming game, she knew she had come home, too.

"The stands were packed with ex-students," she said. "It was a mass turnout. Everyone had come back to see old friends. They were so busy talking, only a few were even watching the game.

"I grew up in a football family. I'm kind of a fanatic. My dad played and coached. My brothers played."

The Bulldogs struggled two weeks ago against Front Range Christian, but the CSDB community still seemed to enjoy the afternoon.

Several blind students sat in front-row bleacher seats, able to follow the action because the public-address announcer describes each play in extensive detail.

A group of younger deaf students played a game of Frisbee on the side, oblivious to the action. Cheerleaders danced happily on the sideline, though nothing of note was occurring on the field.

After a 48-12 loss, Manson delivered an upbeat critique in sign language, then his players lined up to shake hands with their opponents.

As they walked into the quiet of their locker room afterward - beaten badly but hardly fazed - the Bulldogs sent a message for all to hear.

"They usually don't come out a winning team, but they come out playing hard and working hard," Cheryl Balaich said. "They love the game."

Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind Bulldogs (Colorado Springs)

Class A 8-Man, Independent

Coach: Joe Manson

Enrollment: 98

Football highlights: Alumnus Gary Washington, the second winner of the Fred Steinmark High School Athlete of the Year Award, in 1973, played for the University of Colorado. Washington is the sixth-leading rusher in state history, with 6,202 yards. The school won the 1977 Class A 8-man state championship.

Deaf QB developed the huddle

By Clay Latimer, Rocky Mountain News
October 9, 2004

Every time they gather in a huddle to call a play, the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind Bulldogs celebrate an important part of their heritage.

Gallaudet University, a school for deaf and hearing-impaired students in Washington, D.C., was one of the first colleges to play football.

In 1894, the team's star quarterback, Paul Hubbard, was concerned that other teams were stealing his hand signals at the line of scrimmage. So he formed a circle of players to shield his signals.

In the process, he created the first huddle.

Times change, but not football.

Today, American Sign Language (ASL) is the third-most-used language in the United States; as a result, even hearing teams now watch CSDB coach Joe Manson as he sends plays into his quarterback.

"A lot of them are getting more familiar and improving their signing skills," Manson said.

As a result, Bulldogs quarterbacks wear wristbands that list plays numerically. Manson signals plays by their numerals, reducing the chance of a stolen signal.



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