Monday, December 11

‘We’re really equal:’ Meet the deaf football players at John I. Leonard High School

High school football is no easy game, but two inspirational players at one Palm Beach County high school won’t let anything stop them from playing the game they love.

The team at John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres proves this incredible game translates to any language.

Football is a loud sport between the coach, the whistle, and the plays.

But what if you couldn’t hear any of it?

That’s what it’s like on the field for Steven Matos and Tyrell Barr. Both football players are deaf.


“Were really equal to the hearing team,” Barr told WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind using American Sign Language. “I think deaf people can do anything hearing people can do.”

Barr and Matos communicate solely through ASL. That’s where interpreter Kate Robertson comes in.

“What do you like about playing football?” Susskind asked Matos.

“It really helps me be motivated. I’m very interested in football,” Matos responded using ASL.

Robertson, Matos, and Barr are a team within themselves. She’s there for every drill, every play, every moment.

“Locker room halftime talks, those are my favorite,” Robertson said.

An extra coach on the field.

“Steven will often call me over like, get here now!” Robertson said.

But football was not in Robertson’s playbook.

“The coaches have been really nice getting me up to speed. And I actually bought ‘Football For Dummies’ and studied some plays,” Robertson said.

With some help from the guys, too.

“If the interpreter doesnt know, I tell them what to do because I know football,” Matos said.

When they’re on the field, Matos and Barr are just like every other player on the team.

“They come out. They work hard. Theyre very coachable,” John I. Leonard assistant coach Reggie Neal said.

And they’re treated that way.

“I modify nothing,” Neal said. “When its time to yell at them, I tell them, hey. Let them know I’m really yelling this time.”

Their teammates have their backs.

“The coach calls me and I dont see hes calling me. They make sure to tell me to look over at the coach to see what hes saying. And thats a really big help,” Barr said.

And what some may see as a weakness becomes their strength.

“Were more visual,” Matos said. “We can catch the ball moving more. We depend on our eyes all the time. We can see who is tackling who better.”

In his Superman cleats, Matos said that’s how he feels playing football.

“Deaf people can be good at sports. It’s just like hearing people,” Matos said.

With a love for the a game that transcends any outside noise.

“It’s football. Football does that without trying,” Neal said.

Matos and Barr are two of at least 10 athletes at John I. Leonard High School this school year who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Robertson has been a sign language interpreter the school for nearly 15 years.

“I have a heart for the kids,” Robertson said. “Everybody has a heart for the kids and wants them to get the most out of what they want to do.”

Robertson is one of nine sign language interpreters at John I Leonard High School. The school is considered a cluster site for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The school has about three dozens students that fall into that category this school year.

Robertson and the other interpreters are with the students in every class and at every extracurricular activity. She’s grateful for the school and district support for making sure these students can experience high school like anyone else.

“Its just been support all the way for them to be in every activity. So anything they want to access in their high school curriculum,” Robertson said. “They can access their high school experience and be a regular kid.”

Of her relationship with the students, Robertson said, “Theyre teenagers. So what teenager wants to be followed around by a middle-aged lady all day? But we get along and I think we have a great department.”

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