Oregon deaf football program cancels season for first time in 66 years

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

For 66 years, football has served as a barometer of pride and normality at the Oregon School for the Deaf, a small Portland school dedicated to providing a high-quality education for those who have hearing disabilities. Playing in the eight-man classification, OSD rarely competes for a title, yet always maintains a high level of respect from fans and fellow programs alike.

The Oregon School of the Deaf football program — Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian
The Oregon School of the Deaf football program — Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

That all changed in 2012, when for the first time in 66 years OSD had to cancel the season because of a lack of interest. The school could only convince seven players to come out for the 2012-13 season, including a female student who left the school's volleyball team to try and save the football season.

As reported by the Oregonian, OSD always struggles to amass the bodies to field a formidable team. The school's entire high school population numbers around 65, meaning that the football team is often searching for 10 or so players from around a male student body of 30.

It's an even more daunting challenge to successfully recruit football players from among a population with few, if any, who have played in the past. It's almost impossible for fully deaf children to compete on hearing teams because of the difficulty of responding to a verbal snap count.

Adjustments are made for that lack of verbal communication at deaf schools -- snaps are usually signaled by vibrations from a large bass drum along the sideline -- but experience in such a routine is hard to come by for most deaf students, making the sudden move to high school football a daunting one for teens focused on academic achievement.

Yet OSD had somehow found a way to overcome those struggles in each season since the end of World War II … until now. As a result, school officials and those who were counting on the team to be a part of their scholastic experience are now mourning the loss of a sport that helped connect the school to mainstream American culture.

"We love our football here," OSD academic president Sharla Jones told the Oregonian. "It's steeped in our tradition." Since restoring the sport and adopting the Panther mascot at the end of World War II, OSD has fielded a team for 66 consecutive years.

"For most of our kids, this is the first time they get to play a sport. Or the first time they've played sports with a coach they understand."

Added OSD senior Taylor Clark:

"I played football for one year before I got here," Clark said, "but it was a hearing team and I couldn't figure out what the coach was talking about. The face masks made it hard to lip read.

"I always wanted to play on a team on which I could compete. My father played football. My older brother played football. My uncle played football. It's a family thing."

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