How football at Phoenix School for the Deaf helps students grow

How football at Phoenix School for the Deaf helps students grow


How football at Phoenix School for the Deaf helps students grow


The sideline of a deaf school is a little different than most.

But after growing accustomed to the hushed warm-ups and stretching, it’s largely the same. Football is football, and Phoenix Day School for the Deaf plays the game the same way as any other 1A high school – eight-on-eight, on an 80-yard field.

It’s not a silent sideline. There are cheerleaders, waving pom-poms to the beat of a drum. The deaf can’t hear it, but they can feel it, and it rattles like a metronome throughout the game. The players clap for each other and “WHOOP” after good plays, feeding off their teammates’ energy.

Every student at PDSD is deaf, and most of the administration is too. Athletic director Jesse Bailey, who is deaf, is in the middle of his fourteenth year as athletic director and his first in Arizona. Though the game is tough for his players, he says athletics and after-school activities are vital for his students’ growth.

From the front office: Athletic Director Jesse Bailey

How do deaf players know when the whistle was blown?

After spending 20 years refereeing high school basketball, I’ve learned that it’s a pretty simple concept.

I use my eyes.

We can see the action. A foul is a foul. A travel is a travel. And when a different referee makes the call, I can see the players stop moving so I know the play is dead.

That was before I moved to Arizona to become the athletic director of Phoenix Day School for the Deaf.

I started my career in New Mexico, a completely different world. Most people are from small towns, and many had never even met a deaf person. They didn’t know that there was a school for the deaf. I wouldn’t say people were shocked, but there was definitely a curiosity, and other teams’ coaches were a little bit leery about working with me.

That all changed when I went to an athletic director conference. People got to put a name to a face, I got to explain why phone calls, though perceived as more professional than a text, didn’t quite work when communicating with me.

They all preferred phone calls, for some reason.

I moved to Austin and served as athletic director at a school with 550 students for nine years, then moved to Phoenix Day School for the Deaf, with about 350 students. The main difference, though, is that PDSD doesn’t have dorms. Students go home at the end of each day.

Athletics and after school clubs are a privilege because they get to be with peers. At home, many students lose the ability to communicate with parents who can’t speak ASL. They often make signs at home or simply think they can speak with their child instead of signing. Others do know how, but it’s not quite fluent.

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