For deaf football team, playing is winning - KMSP-TV

FOX Medical Team

For deaf football team, playing is winning

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CAVE SPRINGS, Ga. -

High school football is part of growing up for a lot us. Playing helps us learn about teamwork, and grace under pressure. At one north Georgia school, wins are rare but, as the FOX Medical Team's Beth Galvin explains, everyone is welcome.

The Georgia School for the Deaf's football team is tiny compared to most schools and they take their share of hits. They've gone entire seasons without winning any games, but they keep coming back, believing that just playing is winning.

Like any football Friday night, players tape up, get on their game faces and run through their plays. Coach Erik Whitworth has been going through the drill for 31 years.

On one recent Friday night, the Georgia School for the Deaf traveled 100 miles from tiny Cave Springs outside of Rome to McDonough to play a small private Christian school, People's Baptist Academy. It was a game pitting a hearing school against a deaf school.

"I've got some young men that are totally deaf, can't hear anything, to I've got several young men who are hard of hearing that, with their hearing aids on, can communicate pretty good," Whitworth said.

Since Tigers have just 13 players who play both sides of the ball, offense and defense. They follow the lead of their quarterback, 16-year-old sophomore Jonathan Peterson, who follows coach Whitworth on the sidelines,

Whitworth calls plays in American sign language -- something he learned as a kid from his deaf grandmother.

"Communication gets a little hard sometimes," Whitworth said. "You can't get their attention quite as quick out on the field."

Peterson communicates the play back to the team.

"Basically, it's a lot of hands going at the same time. My quarterback is supposed to be relaying my play in, but he's also got to inform the center what the snap count is on," Whitworth said.

The quarterback executes the snap count by tapping the center on the inside of the thigh, Whitworth said.

The Tigers are young and inexperienced. Wins are rare.

"We were on an 11 game losing streak until last week," Whitworth said.

People's Baptist trounced them, 41-0.  Back home, Whitworth used the loss as a learning experience.

Senior running back Joshua McTaggart is okay with not winning because back home in south Georgia, he couldn't play for his public school because of his deafness and small size.

"We lost most games, but we're still staying positive and keep our head up," McTaggart said.

The Georgia School for the Deaf is fiercely proud of its players and its program that welcomes all walk-ons.

Whitworth says there is a lot of camaraderie and respect between schools you don't see very often. Because they travel so far, teams stay for the weekend when they come to play.
 The home team usually throws a party for the visiting team.

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