DuBOIS, Pa. (AP) — It’s all about teamwork when it comes to football. That is why DuBois Beaver Bradley Peterson and his interpreter, Jenna Liddle Volpe, are such great partners.
Unlike his identical twin brother, Joe, Bradley was born with auditory neuropathy, a hearing disorder in which sound enters the inner ear normally but is unable to properly travel to the brain, according to his mother, Faye Peterson. As a result, Bradley’s hearing was severely limited.
“So he doesn’t hear things the way that we would hear them if he hears things at all,” Faye said. “He can hear noise, but it might sound like static on a radio.”
By the time he was 3, Bradley was working with interpreters and attending classes for the deaf in Chicago, where he and his family used to live. His parents and teachers wanted Bradley to experience his world in the fullest way possible. He was eventually fitted with hearing devices when he was in the third grade, she said.
Many of his friends at the deaf school had cochlear implants, a surgically-implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.
“It was something that we considered for him, but he liked playing sports and swimming, which were things those kids couldn’t do with the implants,” Faye said. Third grade was also the time Bradley discovered his love for football, his mom said.
When the twins were in eighth grade, Eric and Faye Peterson moved their family to the DuBois area, where Bradley and his brother continued to play football.
Although being deaf did not stop Bradley’s passion for football, there was always a disconnect, Faye said.
Bradley uses a hearing aid but “he just wasn’t getting it as far as play calling,” Faye said. “I could tell he was frustrated, more than anything last year when he was a sophomore. When he was playing eighth grade and as a freshman here, it wasn’t so bad because his teammates could help him out. When you get up to varsity level, the kids are too busy working on their own stuff to be able to help him out. Last year, he struggled with figuring out what the plays were. He was pretty frustrated and didn’t play much. We didn’t even know if he was going to play this year.
“He was a sophomore and sophomores don’t really get a lot of playing time anyway,” Faye said. “So the coaches basically told him what he needed to work on if he wanted to take his game to the next level at the end of last season. That’s when he started working out heavily in the gym and really researching what he could do to get better.”
Bradley said the most frustrating part for him was not being able to understand the coaches and not being able to show his talent.
“I was at the point where I knew I needed to step up and try to get better,” Bradley said. “So I finally made some decisions.”
He started to lift weights and gained 55 pounds from last football season as a sophomore to this season as a junior. He says he is 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs 255 pounds.
The most important decision Bradley made was advocating to have his interpreter, Volpe, help him on the sidelines during games.
Bradley got the idea because he followed Derrick Coleman, a deaf football player who had played tailback for UCLA and now plays fullback for the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League. Bradley said Coleman had an interpreter in both high school and college.
Bradley’s mother started the ball rolling with the athletic department to devise a plan to allow Volpe, who interprets for Bradley in his classes throughout the day, to also help him on the football field, athletic Director Mike Erickson said. It only took a couple of months to set up and the plan was given the OK by the time football camp started this year.
“The PIAA had a ruling here last year, the year before, that we had to do everything in our power to accommodate students with disabilities,” Erickson said. “It was a pilot program, but we took our best shot at it and it seems to be working out very well. Our coaches were on board with it, they saw it as a benefit and it seems to be working really well. Everybody is pleased with it.
“It’s so nice having her (Volpe) there because there is no mistaking what they are telling him now,” Erickson said. “He managed pretty well before, but he relied on lip reading. This is a much more direct line of communication. I doubt this is the first time it has been used in the state, but it’s the first for DuBois.”
Volpe said there was no hesitation on her part when Bradley asked her about helping him on the football field despite the fact that it is a huge undertaking on her part. Not only does she accompany him to his classes every day, but she also goes to all of his football practices and games, both home and away.
“I was nervous at first, but I knew that after the first couple practices, we would figure it out and make our own system for football,” said Volpe, who has been Bradley’s interpreter in the classroom since he moved here in eighth grade.
The two spend a lot more time together this year than any other year but it has been working out wonderfully.
“He’s like my little brother. We get along very well,” Volpe said.
Bradley said although he had several different interpreters in Chicago, he can’t imagine having anyone else but Volpe help him on the sidelines.
“They weren’t as good as Jenna,” Bradley said.
The football team has been supportive as well.
“They love Jenna,” Bradley said. “They are very interactive and accepting.”
“They come up with systems sometimes if I can’t be on the field,” Volpe said. For example, “They will tap Brad on the hip and let him know we are going a certain way.”
Volpe said she is enjoying the experience and the team and coaches have been very receptive.
“They have really accepted me and treat me as part of the team,” Volpe said.
Having an interpreter has helped Bradley achieve his goal of improving his game and he is getting more playing time because of it. As a junior this year, he has started several times as a defensive end.
“I know that he wouldn’t have had the success that he has been currently having,” Faye said. “It was definitely discouraging for him because he wasn’t understanding what was going on. He worked on his speed and he is a little bit faster so he can do a little more. He was always kind of timid, but since she (Volpe) has been there, I think his confidence level has really improved.”
Faye said her son was invited to go to an All-American Bowl for football in Florida in January and he is very excited about that opportunity.
In addition, Bradley was recognized as a HearStrong Champion at the Sept. 27 home football game. The HearStrong Foundation aims to shatter social stigmas and challenge the general perception of hearing in society, according to its website. The foundation serves to celebrate individuals worldwide who have not only faced hearing loss, but conquered it with a determined spirit, a focused mind and an unwavering heart.
According to HearStrong, “through his inner strength, positive attitude and confidence, Bradley epitomizes what it means to be a HearStrong Champion. Every day, he strives to show everyone he meets that hearing loss isn’t something to feel ashamed of. His dream is to continue playing in college and further inspire other kids with hearing loss to not let anything hold them back.”
Bradley said, “(I want to) help others feel better and feel confident that whatever is best for you, you deserve it.”
Information from: The Courier-Express, http://www.thecourierexpress.com