Featured Article: “Underdog No More, deaf football team takes California by stormBy Thomas Fuller
Are you a sports fan? Do you like stories of underdogs, distant hits or unsung heroes – athletes and teams who break down barriers and defy the odds?
This school year, the California School for the Deaf Riverside football team are crushing their opponents, electrifying a campus that has seen more than a few sporting losses and humiliations.
In this lesson, you will learn how a high school team shatters the stereotype that deafness is a deficit in football and sports. In a Go Deeper activity, we invite you to use the article as a model to tell the story of another athlete or team who broke stereotypes or challenged the odds.
Have you ever played football? Do you find it a difficult sport to master?
Before reading the article, know that there are 55 players in a professional football team. What do you think it takes for them to be successful as a unit?
Snuggle up with a classmate and make a list of all the skills and qualities – athletic, social, emotional – a football team needs to thrive and win on the grill.
Then review your list and consider them assets and the challenges one team could face if the whole list was deaf.
Then, think about another question: Why do you think a team of deaf people at a small Southern California high school is driving their competition?
Questions for writing and discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. The article begins: “The athletics program at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, has suffered its fair share of humiliation and harassment over the years. Which of these humiliations described in the first paragraphs stood out for you? Why do you think Mr. Fuller, the writer, begins the article by recounting some of the weak spots in the life of the Cubs football team?
2. Mr. Fuller writes: “Football is a richly audible experience. How does he compare the typical high school football games with the Friday night games on the Riverside campus?
3. Coach Keith Adams’ philosophy is that “what could be considered a deficit can be an advantage”. Give at least two examples from the article showing how deafness is an asset rather than a deficit as a football player. Then compare the list of strengths and challenges you created in the warm-up activity to what you learned in the article. Do you agree with Mr. Adams’ philosophy? Does this resonate with your own experiences, in or outside of sport?
4. Look at the photographs featured in the article: What story do they tell about the California School for the Deaf football team, Riverside, and the unique skills and chemistry that made them successful this season? Which photo do you find most revealing or touching?
5. How has playing with the Cubs affected his teenage players, like Felix Gonzales? Compare their experiences of competition in a deaf environment to their previous experiences in traditional contexts. Have you ever been part of a team or community that has allowed you to “flourish” like many Cubs players have?
6. What is your reaction to the story? What does this make you think or feel? Why do you think The Times ran an article about a Southern California high school football team? What inspirations and life lessons can you draw from it?
Option 1: Write about a time when you defied expectations and odds.
Have you ever been the underdog? David to a seemingly unbeatable Goliath? Have you ever been told that you cannot do or accomplish something because of your appearance, age, gender, race, identity or ability? But you did it anyway – and succeeded?
Write about a time when you faced great obstacles, challenged stereotypes or defied the odds, in or outside of sport. Describe your experience: What obstacles did you encounter and how did you try to overcome them? What skills and assets have you used and built on? How did you feel afterwards? Did anyone support you along the way? Have you ever thought about giving up? What did you learn about yourself and the world from this experience?
Option 2: Read another inspiring story from the world of sports.
Read another touching and uplifting article from The Times Sports Bureau below. Then respond to the following prompts in writing or through a discussion with a partner: What did you learn from the article? What moments did you find most surprising, memorable or moving? What life lessons have you learned from history? Why do you think sport is such a rich and fascinating arena for inspiring journeys?
Indigenous women’s softball team in Mexico breaks barriers
To honor his Indigenous ancestors, he became a champion
Athletes in devastated Louisiana town try to get back to normal
“Looking back, I’m glad we played”
Cancer almost took his life. But the New York Marathon was waiting.
Option 3: Tell the story of someone else who broke barriers or challenged stereotypes.
Imagine the Times hired you to write an article about an individual or group that has triumphed in the face of adversity, in the world of sport or outside. Who will you profile and why? What questions would you ask? How might these experiences inform and engage Times readers? How can you celebrate the accomplishments of ordinary people in your family, school, or community at a time when we could all use an uplifting story?
Use the featured article as your mentoring text to build your profile. Like Mr. Fuller, you can start your story with weak spots or past difficulties, and using vivid language to capture what success looks like and what success looks like. To complete your profile, you can include the thoughts and perspectives of family, friends, teachers, coaches, and fans.
Think about a list of questions you could ask to learn more about your subject’s experiences and accomplishments. For example, you might ask: What obstacles have you encountered? How did you overcome them? What has been the most rewarding about your experience? What was the hardest part? How have your friends, parents or coaches supported you? What life lessons have you learned about yourself or the world? What advice would you give to others who are facing similar obstacles or difficult obstacles?
If you are working on this assignment as part of a class project, you may want to post your work with your classmates and publish the profiles in the school newspaper or on the school website.
Want more lessons of the day? You can find them all here.