Deaf football player relies on teammates, interpreter to play

FREDERICKTOWN, MO (KFVS) - Visit a Heartland high school this time of year and it's hard to miss the whistles and coach's calls at an afternoon football practice. But not every player hears those sounds.

A Fredericktown, Missouri player who uses signs and numbers to make plays on the field.

It's a typical Black Cat practice, coaches call plays, players runs drills, then a scrimmage in preparation for Friday night's game. But for senior Josh Lake, there is no sound to practice.

"Is not hearing your coaches' directions ever a challenge?" reporter Julia Bruck asked.

"Well, yes a little bit. But really, for example, the coach will tell me ahead and if I look over at the coach at the sidelines and the team, lot of time the team will help me too and the coaches of course," Lake said. "Somebody is always there that I understand who will make me in a position if I'm in the wrong place."

Cathy Merrill, an interpreter for the deaf, signs the coaches' directions for Lake. Something she's done since he turned out for the team freshman year.

"I wanted to play football and was hoping that we would have a championship season like we've had," Lake said.

"It's been kind of a pleasure having Cathy around, Black Cats Head Football Coach Shannon Henson said. "We call her coach Merrill."

Henson says after seven seasons, and interpreting for two deaf players, Merrill has become a staple on the team, both on the field and in the locker room.

"It always makes me smile whenever we graduate seniors and I realize that they have never been without a middle aged lady in their locker room the entire time they played football," Merrill said.

Back on the field players refine their skills. But Henson says these drills have produced more than just wins. He says add lessons to last a lifetime.

"We embrace everybody that comes into our football organization and it shows that people can persevere and be successful not only as a football player on the team but also in life," Henson said.

Meanwhile, Lake says his football experience is a highlight of high school.

"It's one of the best things here, yeah one of the best things of all," Lake said.

If you know of a "Beyond the Score" story, Julia wants to hear about it. It can feature a super fan, female athlete, coach, parent, or band member just to name a few. Any ideas outside football are welcome. Just click here to email Julia Bruck.

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