The Riverside Cubs boast an impressive record. The high school football team has enjoyed an undefeated season, and now all that stands between them and their division’s title is one championship game.
The secret to their success? As the players and the coach revealed during a spot that aired on TODAY Friday morning, it’s the fact that all of them are deaf.
That’s right. This team from California School for the Deaf doesn’t believe being deaf makes for an extra challenge on the field. On the contrary, they see it as a special strength they bring to the game.
“Hearing people don’t use their eyes as much, and they’re less alert visually than we are,” player Trevin Adams explained.
So, while some teams may struggle to hear each other in the huddle or pick up the cues their coaches send from the sidelines, the Cubs are able to seamlessly communicate with each other using fast hand signals and heightened visual awareness.
“It is a big deal,” said offensive lineman and defensive end David Figueroa. “It’s huge for me and the football team. I believe in my football team. I believe in these guys. I know they can do this.”
And all the players believe in their head coach, Keith Adams.
“I'm very, very proud of our players,” Adams told NBC’s Erin McLaughlin. “They've gone so far. They have not given up. They just persevere. They practice hard, and we are getting close to what their goal is.”
That goal is a clean-sweep season, a championship win and respect, which they’re quickly gaining outside of their home turf as their story makes national headlines.
“It feels overwhelming,” Adams noted. “It’s been nonstop getting messages, congratulations and well wishes; my email is blowing up. I’ve had some NFL head coaches. The Tennessee Titans have sent me congratulations. It’s just been amazing.”
To put it another way, they’re riding high, which is a welcome change from some of their past experiences of being underestimated by the hearing world.
Felix Gonzalez, a star on the offense, shared that, “A lot of hearing people say, ‘Oh yeah, deaf people can’t do this; they can’t do that. They’re not smart enough, because they’re deaf.’”
It’s something he first witnessed when he was just 5 years old and was cruelly bullied by his own coach.
“I played until I did something wrong,” he recalled. “The coach would get mad at me and yell at me, and I'm the only deaf person on the team. He would smack me. He would yell at me. So it made me really upset, and I'd get home and I'd be in tears.”
But it’s a whole different world for him on the Cubs, where he and his teammates are valued by each other and by their coaches.
“It’s definitely a brotherhood with this team,” he said.
Figueroa agreed with him, adding, “Even off campus, at the weekends, we don’t ever lose that bond.”
Fans will have the chance to see the benefit of that bond when the Riverside Cubs hit the field this Saturday for that highly anticipated championship game. If they win, it will mark their first-ever division title.
But no matter the score, it’s already clear that this is a team of winners.