SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (KCAU) — There’s something magical about the sounds of Friday night football. Many players say game preparations involve canceling out the noise, but that’s the only way South Sioux City sophomore running back Demarico Young knows how to do it, because the Cardinals leading rusher is deaf.
“I can see the snap, and I can hear things, like when they tackle,” said Demarico.
The Louisiana native was born hearing, but at the age of three, an ear infection left him deaf, with only partial hearing in one ear, which left his mother, Sholanda Warfield, with a choice: keep Demarico living at home, attending public schools, or enroll him in the Louisiana School for the Deaf, where he would also have to live during the week.
For Sholanda, the choice was obvious.
“They had him in the special ed. class,” she said. “So I ended up letting him go to school in Baton Rouge so he can learn better, and do sign language, and live in the world.”
Demarico stayed at the Lousiana School for the Deaf for more than ten years before his family moved to South Sioux City for a better life last year. But their transition to that life hasn’t always been smooth.
“We ended up getting a place, but I ended up losing my job,” said Sholanda. “So we ended up losing our house. Since then we’ve been staying in a hotel, trying to make ends meet.”
Each month brings a new challenge to Demarico and his family as they continue to search for permanent housing. However the biggest challenge for the sophomore has been in the classroom, where last year he made the change from a deaf school to a hearing one.
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“Really one of my biggest frustrations being in a hearing school is communication,” Demarico said.
In order to help with that communication, Demarico met with Dawn Habhab, a former deaf school councilor and interpreter, to help him bridge the gap with the hearing world.
“I picked up on some behavioral, and body language cues when I started interpreting for him,” said Dawn. “He would sleep during class. After about the first week we started having conversations. ‘Why are you asleep?’ ‘I’m tired, I’m hungry.’ ‘You’re hungry? Did you eat breakfast?’ ‘No.’ and I’m like ‘okay, I’ll bring some food in.’ and like, ‘Why are you so tired?’ ‘Well, I don’t sleep well. We had to move out of the hotel, and now I was in the car.’ Okay. There it is.”
While some may have judged Demarico and his family, Dawn took a step further in her interpreting duties, helping get this tight-knit family back on it’s feet.
“I don’t like them seeing me struggle. But they know what it is. But hey, I’ve been working it out,” said Sholanda. “Miss Dawn, she’s been helping us, a whole lot. Because if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what we would do.”
“We have assured her that we will do everything that we can in our power to make sure that Demarico, and her family succeed here in Siouxland,” Dawn said. “She reached out to me in need of school clothes, or if they need groceries, or any way that we can help. And we do. We have become like family.”
But it’s Dawn’s work with Demarico in the classroom that has made the biggest impact.
“When we first came here, his grades weren’t any good,” said Sholanda. “He had probably a 2.5 [GPA], and now miss Dawn came into his life, and he’s got a 4.0. And I’m proud of him.”
And his grades aren’t the only thing miss Dawn is helping him with.
As a sophomore, Demarico has already become South Sioux’s starting running back as Dawn accompanies him to practices and games to make sure he never misses a beat.
Hand signals are already pretty prevalent in football playcalling, which obviously works for Demarico. However, even those signals can get crossed.
“We all thought it would be easy, ASL all of his life, he’ll pick up these signs easy. It’s been hard, because one thing to us means something completely different to him,” T.D. Stein, the Cardinals offensive coordinator, said.
But if there’s confusion, having Dawn on the sidelines has made it easier on everyone.
“He had a couple of injuries in the last game, some cramping in the legs. And they got to see that dynamic, right? He comes off the field, and they couldn’t understand what he needed, or wanted. And it took me having to [tell them] ‘You’ve got to get out of his eyesight so he can see me, so that I can communicate to him, and he can tell me what he needs you to do. And the trainer was wonderful about providing just like that. It was great,” Dawn said.
It’s situations like that that stress the importance of having that communication on the sidelines for Demarico, who hopes to remain healthy and productive enough to fulfill his dream to play sports at the college level as well.
“My future? I want to go to LSU. That’s my favorite. I want to go back to Louisiana,” Demarico said.
The magic of sports is something that many of us learn at a young age. The rewards of hard work shown at the end of the night on a scoreboard. So remember that if you see number four at South Sioux running towards the end zone, cheer a little louder to make sure he hears you.