Aside from their inherent life lessons and values, one of the greatest elements of education-based activity programs is the platform they provide for improbable, inspiring and downright amazing moments to occur.
On December 11, the Austin, Texas-based Texas School for the Deaf (TSD) produced one of those moments when it captured the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) Six Man Football Division I state championship, defeating Veritas Academy, 63-32.
Signaling its offensive cadence with the intense vibrations from striking a bass drum with a baseball bat, TSD logged playoff victories over Logos Preparatory Academy (60-30) in the regional round and San Marcos Academy (39-28) in the semifinals before avenging their earlier defeat at the hands of Veritas to clinch the first state title in the school’s 164-year history.
"I’d have to say, it’s the best feeling ever,” said Kylar Sycoli, a TSD football player. “Nothing can compare to that. Nothing equals that feeling."
And, as if overcoming collective hearing loss to win a state championship wasn’t impressive enough, add to it the fact this was the Rangers’ first season in six-player football.
Students come from all over The Lone Star State to attend TSD – eight hours away in some cases – and are typically sent home on weekends to be with family. The widespread uncertainty and volatility of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in a state as large as Texas, has led many students to stay home this year, resulting in a stark reduction in the school’s athletics participation numbers. The severity of the drop-off in the football program left head coach John Moore, Jr. without enough players to field an 11-man team and prompted superintendent Claire Bugen to “seriously consider cancelling the whole football program” for 2020.
"We had the realization that a lot of our players wouldn’t be back in the fall,” Moore said. “So, on day one, we saw how much our roster dwindled and it was really difficult to make that decision to go from 11-man to six-man.”
Adapting to fewer players, a smaller field and faster-paced action on both sides of the ball understandably required a learning curve, but after a 1-2 start to the season, the Rangers got things figured out in short order. The team reeled off victories in four of its last five regular-season contests to enter the playoffs at 5-3, generating all the momentum it would need to complete its historic postseason run.
"To win during a season like this, where every single football program in the country has been affected by COVID-19, (is) outstanding,” said Moore. “Knowing our boys put in the extra work on the field and off the field to stay safe really makes my staff and I proud."
Moore also hinted that the Rangers could remain in TAPPS’ six-player division again in 2021, quipping to a reporter from FOX 7 Austin after the title game: “we have to defend our honor next year, right?”
The greatest honor in the Rangers’ triumph, however, transcends the gridiron. It sends a message of empowerment to schools and students with impairments nationwide and proves that achievement bears a much stronger connection to attitude and outlook than it does to disability.
“It means that I can do it,” said TSD player Zachary Hurt. “So many people want to tell us we can’t, but we can. It means as a deaf person, I can do it."
"We have the skill, we can do it,” added teammate Jordan Leeper. “It doesn’t matter if you’re deaf, it doesn’t matter if you have some other challenge, you can do it, football is football.”