Championship Coach Leads Deaf Football Teams to Victory

Players compete vs. deaf and hearing opponents, communicate with sign language.

Oct. 2, 2009— -- The Orioles football team is 4-1 this season -- not unusual for a team coached by Andy Bonheyo. In his 24 year career, coach Bonheyo has won 170 games and lost just 48. And most of those wins have been against teams who can hear.

Bonheyo and his players are deaf.

"I don't look at whether we're playing a hearing or a deaf team. I look at the team. So to me I don't think I have an advantage over anyone except the teams who aren't prepared to play us," said Bonheyo.

Coaching at three different schools, Bonheyo has won the National Deaf Prep Championship 15 times -- seven at the Maryland School for the Deaf, where he is currently the head football coach, assistant track and field coach, and is also the athletic director.

"It is true that I am a perfectionist. I like to see our plays perfect and that's just me, that's who I am," he said.

Good thing he's such a stickler for details. The football program at Maryland had a losing record before Bonheyo's arrival.

"Coach Andy, he's pushed me a lot harder," said player Brandon Williams. "He pushes me harder than I think my limits are."

The team plays an average of 10 games each year, three of them against other deaf teams.

The team had two long winning streaks, one from 2002 to 2005, when it won 27 games in a row, and one from 2005 to 2008, when it won 34.

But as good as the team is, there are some adjustments that have to be made.

"I don't think we do anything much different than other teams do. We just call the plays in sign language. The quarterback will tap the center and that's when the ball will be snapped," Bonheyo said.

And those snaps can be an advantage.

"When I call plays, they don't understand us," said Bonheyo's son Todd who plays quarterback. "Our snap, they can't predict -- our snap count."

But coach Bonheyo does have some frustrations.

"The huge disadvantage at games [is that] the opposing coach can wear headsets and they have coaches standing above that they can communicate with," Bonheyo said. "They can see our weaknesses and they can tell the coach on the field which play to use."

The NFL Congratulates Coach's Success

Bonheyo's talents were recognized this summer when he was invited to represent the state of Maryland at the NFL's High School Coaches Summit. He was the first deaf coach ever invited. Legendary NFL coach Dick Vermeil congratulated Bonheyo for his success, and Bonheyo's team recently was featured in a Toyota ad campaign that aired during NFL games.

But Bonheyo remains steadfastly modest.

"It's wonderful to be a success, but I want to give credit to other people," he said. "Because I'm not the only one who made all this success possible.

"Some of our students come from broken homes," Bonheyo said. "Some of them don't have communications at home. Their parents can't sign. ... When they do well on the field or on the court, it's very inspiring for us. ... The increase in their self esteem just knowing they feel good about themselves is outstanding."

For this coach, it's all about the kids.