“A – 19, A- 19 Hut, Hut”

Coach Esposito, Jonatan Caravantes and Coach Pearsall

For the past 25 years, Cleary School for the Deaf has had their secondary program in the East Islip High School. Students enrolled at the high school are mainstreamed in regular classes with the general population and have an opportunity to participate in the extra curricula activities. This allows students who are deaf to learn and socialize with their peers with support to achieve their goals. 

One of our students, Jonatan Caravantes, has taken advantage of these circumstances and joined the J.V. Football Team.  We conducted interviews with Jonatan, his coaches, and team members to get a complete perspective about having a deaf person on the JV Football Team.

Our interview begins with Jonatan:

Question:  How do you like being at East Islip High School (EIHS)?

Jonatan: I like it. I get to make a lot of friends especially being on the football team. 

Question:  Why did you join the football team? What position do you play?

Jonatan:  It’s my favorite sport. When I heard that I could be on the team at EIHS, I was excited.  I’m a lineman, I play nose guard.

Question:  Were you nervous about being on the team?

Jonatan:  I was a little bit nervous because of being deaf but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. 

Question:  How did you overcome your nervousness?

Jonatan:  I knew I would have interpreters there for support but I also wanted to be able to talk and joke with the guys and coaches myself.  So I slowly showed them signs to communicate with me. If they didn’t understand me I would call the interpreter over for some assistance.  Once the guys caught on it was easier to just talk and joke around.  Some of the guys are in the American Sign Language (ASL) classes at EIHS that helped a little.

Question:  What would you say was your hardest challenge while being on the football team?

Jonatan:  I would say the summer practice.  Being outside in full gear running and practicing all the drills while it was so hot was hard.  I would really sweat.  Then when school started the next challenge was getting ready for the games.  I wanted to play and get the chance to tackle (pancake) the opponent or get the quarterback.

Question:  How did you like being a lineman and what was your overall experience being on the JV Football team?

Jonatan: I really like it. I always wanted to play defense so to play nose guard is great.  I had a great time being on the JV team.  I want to encourage others to join a sport. It’s good for you; you become part of a team and make great new friends. The coaches are the best. They encourage you and teach you to be a better player, plus they joke around with you. That makes being on a team more fun.  You don’t have to worry about communication because you have interpreters and you can also text the guys.

Next we interviewed Coach Esposito and Coach Pearsall and his teammates.

Question: Coach Esposito and Coach Pearsall. What was your first reaction when you met Jonatan? 

Coach Esposito: I have never worked with a deaf student before; I thought it might be difficult for him to perform. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get him to understand the plays or how I would communicate with him.

Coach Pearsall: I was nervous about communicating with him and how I would coach him, since I coach defense. I also wasn’t sure how he would fit in with the other students.

Question:   So it seems that communication and fitting in on the team were the two challenges that you faced. How did you resolve these challenges?

Coach Esposito/Pearsall:  We had an interpreter there to communicate with Joanatan and we would make up our own gestures to him when we were joking around.  As far as fitting in we decided that because of his size and strength he would be a great defensive player.  This made him happy that’s the position he wanted. So we put him in as nose guard. We also came up with the idea that while on the line and not in eye sight of the interpreter that one of the other linemen would just tap him on the side in which the play would move.  It work out really good in two ways; in the communication part and it involved the other guys so they became more of a team supporting each other.

Question:  Now that the season has come to an end what is your view now that you have experienced having Jonatan on the team?

Coach Esposito/Pearsall:  Working with Jonatan has been a wonderful experience.   Once we got to know Joantan you realize you don’t have to worry about him fitting in. With his personality he made it easy to just see him as one of the other boys.  He wasn’t afraid to stand up to the guys, so we knew he was serious about playing.  We realized that there was no difference between Joanatan and the other guys.  We built the same kind of bond with him as we did with the other boys.  In fact there were times that we even forgot he was deaf.  There was this one time after he had gotten hit in the head, we had to ask him some questions to make sure he was ok.  I didn’t even think about it and asked him if he heard any loud noises? Well we just laughed because he gave me this look and pointed to his ears. We all broke up laughing.  It has been a pleasure coaching him and building a bond with him.

Next we interviewed some of Jonatan's teammates; Joe Guarnieri , Kai Brothers, Jose Fernandes, Tom Lynster and Brandon Postilio.

Question: When you met Jonatan what was your first impression? 

Joe: I was surprised and excited that someone who was deaf would try out for a sport.  I was happy he chose football.

Kai: When we first met I liked him right away. I knew we would be friends.

Tom: When I met him in the weight room I thought, "Wow, he's really a jacked (strong) kid!" I had fun lifting weights with him.

Brandon: I have gym with Jonatan. My first time meeting him was in gym class.  He's a lot of fun in gym.  He brings the fun back into the sports we play during class. My brother took classes here at East Islip and taught me some sign language so I could talk with Jonatan.  

Jose:  Jonatan was fun to be with. I knew we would hit it off because we were both Spanish.

Question:  What was it like having Jonatan on the football team and as a lineman?

Joe: In football it's really important to connect with your teammates. You need to build a good relationship in order for the team to be successful.  I was worried that we would not be able to interact as teammates. When we were first introduced to each other, I remembered that I knew the ABC's in sign Language so I finger spelled my name to him. I wanted to make him feel comfortable.  I always tried to include him everything we did.   Jonatan is a really funny guy that was something I didn't expect. As far as being a lineman I think he was a great addition to the team. I'm glad the coaches saw his potential and I'm glad he played football.

Kai:  I thought it was cool that we got to work together as lineman.  We could help each other with the different plays. I really enjoyed the times we did "Oklahoma" or the shuts.  There were times when I thought I was in trouble but he helped me become a better player.

Jose:  Going up against him in practice was a little scary because he is so much bigger than me.  He’s a great lineman.  He’s also a great guy. When my cleats broke he gave me a pair of his to use. He also lent me an under armor when the weather was getting colder. He’s just a great guy, he’s really cool.

Tom:  He’s a good lineman, one of the best.  He was the first deaf person I ever played football with.  He taught me some sign language and he is so funny.  I hope he plays again next year. It will be cool playing on the same team.

Brandon:  It’s great having him on the team and as a lineman.  He helps the line stay focused because he doesn’t get distracted and go off sides.  It has been a lot of fun having him on the team and I look forward to him being a teammate again next year.  

Joe Guarnieri, Jonatan Caravantes, and Kai Brothers