Due to dwindling numbers of players and escalating miles for road trips, the Oregon School for the Deaf had to let go of football. The school gained soccer, though, bringing Panther Pride to the pitch.
OSD traded out eight-man football for co-ed futbol in 2016. After nearly 70 years of pigskin, Friday night lights are missed in the Panthers Lair, but the students are finding the new excitement in the new sport.
"Oh, I thought 'Way cool!'” OSD senior Jesse Martinez signed. “I felt I could improve myself and get better because I just want to be a success."
Second-year coaches Bo Edmunson and Maryellen Graham direct the co-ed high school soccer club from Salem. While he knows that some students miss the gridiron, Edmunson knew that others would welcome the change to soccer.
“There is a mixed reception. Some students are very loyal to football, they miss it, they lost the football program. But some students were thrilled. They didn't have to play football, they could switch over to soccer immediately,” he signed. “I am very proud of them. I am very proud of the kids. Even though they've never experienced soccer, sometimes we think, 'Wow, we got embarrassed,’ moments, but the kids show up every single day and give 150 percent. And that's all that we can ask of them.”
There are 17 boys and girls on the Panthers' roster, and the players believe having the mixed squad makes them a tighter team.
“Oh, I like it to be a boys and girls team because we can improve all over in skills and defense and offense,” Martinez signed. “We can pick it up from each other being partners with one another, like brother and sisters in a family.”
“Really, it's a little bit different because the boys are rougher than me and faster, but we are trying and we are learning how to run every day and trying their practices,” junior Zayra Camodiaz added. “It would be fun to have an all-girls team but there aren't enough girls so it's fun to experience this.”
The OSD team is a collection of kids from all over the state who mainly live in the on-campus dorms. They are a close-knit group at school and on the pitch.
“Since I was in elementary school there was no competition, but I loved playing by myself, not a team,” senior Junior Vealdor signed. “I just did it for enjoyment and as a sophomore, I joined here and it was my first time.
From first-time players to long-time lovers of the sport, the Panthers compete against others small schools in the 1A CASCO League. Edmunson noted how road trips are bringing the players together.
“Our bus ride back home is always full of jokes and game reviews, 'Do you remember that time when the pass went on, that was a good one?'’ he signed. “Or whether they are teasing one another, 'Remember when you got the ball but then you tripped and fell? Oops!'”
The game flow goes a little different for the Panthers since they can't always hear the referees, though they pick up on other cues.
“Obviously, if they are blowing their whistles, our team can't hear,” Edmunson explained. “They are going to keep playing, but most of the time they will catch the other team stop playing and our team will see it and stop too.”
“I am hard of hearing, and I can hear a little bit. So if they are deaf, I wave and tell them to stop so I am helping them and the referee as well” Vealdor added.
Communication and community - it's what makes this soccer team come together as one, and they're always willing to accept more with Panther Pride.
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