Deaf Football Team Shatters Stereotypes

"You don't have to use the words," says football coach Gerald Joseph.

This football season, the Fighting Spartans will feel the crunch of the contact and see the excitement of the crowd as it cheers the team to victory.

But the one thing the team won't be able to do, unlike so many other high school football teams, is hear the crowd's roar -- because the all the players are deaf.

The Fighting Spartans are the football team for the Ohio School for the Deaf in Columbus, Ohio. The school is too small to field the 11 players that usually compose a football team, so the team plays eight-man football.

Players said the eight-player format is the only real difference between their team and other teams.

"We don't want anyone to treat us differently," said player and student Max Cook. "We see ourselves as equals. We're not disabled. We are as equal as anyone else. We just can't hear."

Instead of calling out plays, the group signs the snap count and taps the center to signal the moment to snap the ball to the quarterback.

"You don't have to use the words," said football coach Gerald Joseph. "Deaf players depend upon body language and expressions."

The team represents a school where the hallways are filled with silence, which could be jarring to the hearing world. But the students feel comfortable and accepted in a place that understands deaf life.

"It's how deaf people live," said student and deaf football player J.D. Hardy. "We fit together in school. We fit together in dorms. We fit together in sports. It's that living together, camaraderie, as a living community."

It's a bond Cook said he didn't have when he attended a mainstream public school before transferring.

"I definitely prefer the deaf school because of the communication," said Cook, whose parents and siblings also are deaf. "I have a lot of friends there. The mainstream school, the regular hearing school -- I had few friends there but the communication was hard."

Cook's father sees a difference.

"They are like brothers" at the deaf school, said Willis Cook Sr. "There is no hatred. There's no jealousy. There's no feeling that one is better than the other."

That feeling easily seeps from the classroom and hallways to the football field, where the Spartans tackle teams like Tennessee School for the Deaf.

The two teams played in the Ohio School for the Deaf's homecoming game, where Ohio triumphed over the visitors after trailing with less than one minute to play.