Featured Article: “Underdog No More, a Deaf Football Team Takes California by Storm” by Thomas Fuller
Are you a sports fan? Do you like stories about underdogs, long shots or unsung heroes — athletes and teams that break barriers and defy the odds?
This school year, the football team at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, is steamrolling its opponents, electrifying a campus that has seen more than a few athletic defeats and humiliations.
In this lesson, you will learn about how one high school team is shattering the stereotype that deafness is a deficit in football and sports. In a Going Further activity, we invite you to use the article as a model to tell the story of another athlete or team that has broken stereotypes or defied the odds.
Have you ever played football? Do you find it a challenging sport to master?
Before reading the article, consider that there are 53 players on a professional football team. What do you think it takes for them to become successful as a unit?
Huddle up with a classmate and make a list of all the skills and qualities — athletic, social, emotional — that a football team needs to thrive and win on the gridiron.
Next, review your list and consider the assets and the challenges a team might face if the entire roster was deaf.
Then, consider one more question: Why do you think an all-deaf team in a small Southern California high school is steamrolling its competition?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. The article begins: “The athletic program at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, has suffered its share of humiliations and harassment over the years.” Which of these humiliations described in the opening paragraphs stood out to you? Why do you think Mr. Fuller, the writer, starts the piece by recounting some of the low points in the life of the Cubs football team?
2. Mr. Fuller writes, “Football is a richly audible experience.” How does he contrast typical high school football games with Friday night games at the Riverside campus?
3. Coach Keith Adams’s philosophy is that “what might be thought of as a deficit can be an edge.” 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 assets and challenges you created in the warm-up activity to what you learned in the article. Do you agree with Mr. Adams’s philosophy? Does it resonate with your own experiences, in or outside of sports?
4. Look at the photographs featured in the article: What story do they tell about the football team at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, and the unique skills and chemistry that have enabled its success this season? What photo do you find most revealing or affecting?
5. How has playing on the Cubs affected its teenage players, like Felix Gonzales? Compare their experiences competing in an all-deaf environment to previous ones in mainstream settings. Have you ever been part of a team or community that allowed you to “blossom” as many Cubs players have?
6. What’s your reaction to the story? What does it make you think or feel? Why do you think The Times published an article on a high school football team in Southern California? What inspiration 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 you couldn’t do or accomplish something because of your appearance, age, gender, race, identity or abilities? But you did it anyway — and succeeded?
Write about a time when you faced great obstacles, challenged stereotypes or beat the odds, in or outside of sports. Describe your experience: What obstacles did you face and how did you try to overcome them? What skills and assets did you use and draw upon? How did you feel afterward? Did anyone support you along the way? Did you ever think of giving up? What did you learn about yourself and the world from the experience?
Option 2: Read another inspiring story from the world of sports.
Read another moving and uplifting article below from The Times’s Sports desk. Then respond to the following prompts in writing or through discussion with a partner: What did you learn from the article? Which moments did you find most surprising, memorable or moving? What life lessons did you draw from the story? Why do you think sports is such a rich and compelling arena for inspirational journeys?
Option 3: Tell the story of someone else who has broken barriers or challenged stereotypes.
Imagine that The Times has hired you to write an article on an individual or group that triumphed in the face of adversity, from the world of sports or outside it. Whom would you profile and why? What questions would you ask? How might these experiences inform and engage readers of The Times? 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 a mentor text to create your profile. Like Mr. Fuller, you might begin your story with past low points or struggles, and by using vivid language to capture what success looks and feels like. To round out your profile, you may want to include the thoughts and perspectives of the family, friends, teachers, coaches and fans.
Brainstorm a list of questions you could ask to learn about your subject’s experiences and accomplishment. For instance, you might ask: What obstacles did you face? How did you overcome them? What was most rewarding about your experience? What was most challenging? How did friends, parents, or coaches support you? What life lessons did you learn about yourself or the world? What advice would you give others who are facing similar barriers or tough odds?
If you are working on this assignment as part of a class project, you may want to display 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.