It’s a silent war. A battle of deception. A game of long-awaited open communication — but some needed to be hidden.
Players for Riverside’s California School for the Deaf sported black armbands during their game Saturday, a secret code of symbols that corresponded to coach Keith Adams’ frantic signing from the sidelines.
CSDR’s opponent, Florida St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, meanwhile, brought quarterback Phoenix Lambirth over to coach Eric LeFors before every snap, transmitting plays in a concealed one-on-one huddle.
The disguise was necessary because plays communicated via American Sign Language can be easily stolen when playing another deaf school.
“Did you see how far on the field I went?” LeFors said postgame, grinning.
American football is often defined by sheer noise. So to a hearing person, the competition in CSDR’s 84-8 win over Florida could’ve seemed muted — the occasional clap or excited yelp the only breaks in a veil of silence.
But to CSDR, there’s a unique energy to a deaf-against-deaf matchup — layers of challenge and motivation that no game against a hearing school can pose.
Before the tackling, they met for a different type of competition.
Surrounded by pingpong and foosball tables, CSDR and Florida students gathered in a summer-camp circle for some Friday night fun. They played musical chairs. Duck-duck-goose. Four Corners.
The deaf community across the nation is small, CSDR athletic director Jeremiah Valencia said. When communities meet, it’s a chance for alumni to bump into each other, families to reunite, players to develop lasting friendships in a comfortable, shared-language atmosphere.
Saturday’s game marked three straight matchups against deaf schools for CSDR, the most in a single year in school history, said Valencia. The ability to share information, to communicate fully, gave his players a heightened energy heading into games against deaf programs, CSDR coach Keith Adams said. The most fun element?
“We take advantage of the same language,” senior quarterback Trevin Adams signed via interpreter Kambrina Clark, “and we trash-talk.”
Over the years, top Southern California football programs have all looked out of state to schedule regular-season games, providing a more dynamic experience for players. After a storybook 12-1 2021 season, CSDR is trying to do the same, connecting with other deaf schools across the country.
“It’s bragging rights,” Keith Adams said via interpreter. “These are rivals. With the hearing teams, it’s not really rivals. But with a deaf team, it’s more intensity, because they know we can talk to each other.”
After years of futility, everyone wants a story now about the CSDR program, alumnus John Maucere said.
He’s co-producing and consulting on one of them — an upcoming Disney+ show on the Cubs’ 2021 season that ended with a loss in the Southern Section 8-man championship game. Much of the story, Maucere said, will center on the school’s community atmosphere.
“You’ll see a lot of what the deaf home is here,” Maucere said.
That was on full display at Saturday’s homecoming game, the first time the Cubs had held the event in five years.
Kids in red face paint sold snacks and raffle tickets from booths lining the dirt entrance. Families mingled behind the bleachers, a blonde-haired toddler gleefully rolling in the dust. At halftime, players waved from the beds of pickup trucks riding around the edge of the field.
It was accessory to on-field dominance. Trevin Adams fired five first-half touchdowns, freshman Gio Visco made a Statue-of-Liberty leaping grab that sent his sideline into shock, and CSDR took most of its starters out by the start of the second half.
“I’m really at a loss for words,” LeFors said postgame. “They can run, they can throw. They have that country-boy feel.”
CSDR’s last season was defined by the burning motivation to prove themselves against hearing schools. Yet in addition to winning an 8-man football division title, the Cubs have another goal this year — stand alone amongst deaf programs.
“We want to prove we’re the best,” Trevin Adams said.