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School for the Deaf back-to-back football national champs

November 30, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Students at the Mississippi School for the Deaf filed into an auditorium on the first Wednesday of November, unsure why an announcement had been made over the televisions throughout the school.

A week had passed since the football team ended its regular season with a 34-0 drubbing of the Louisiana School for the Deaf to improve its record to 5-1. The team had won national championships before. Some of the players thought, “Maybe?”

Once everyone was in the auditorium, the 16 football players — some deaf, others hard of hearing, three blind — were asked to stand up. Athletic director Cheryl Kaler presented them with a yellow paper banner with purple letters on it, announcing DeafDigest had named the football team national champions for the second consecutive year and for the 10th time overall.

The players took a picture together, then danced and yelled, a celebration that continued into the dorms on campus.

“Most kids in Mississippi want state championships,” head coach Arness Georgetown said. “Well, our state championship is the national championship. That’s our goal.”

With about 100 students in the high school — most live there during the week and go home on the weekends — the Mississippi School for the Deaf plays 8-man football. It schedules games against other schools for deaf or hard-of-hearing students, including teams in Georgia and Oklahoma.

Selection of a national champion is a bit subjective. Georgetown said there are 25 schools for the deaf considered “small schools” like Mississippi. DeafDigest evaluated teams’ strength of schedule and record to determine two national champions, one for 8-man teams and one for 11-man teams.

Mississippi owns a 13-1 record over the last two seasons, its only loss coming against the Maryland School for the Deaf, a school with about 500 students that plays 11-man football, sometimes against hearing schools.

“That’s a big accomplishment for not only these kids,” Georgetown said, “but for the deaf community, the (Mississippi School for the Deaf) and for the state of Mississippi.”

Georgetown has taught and coached at the school since he graduated from Jackson State in 1991. He began as a recreation assistant in the dorms arranging after-school activities before becoming the head football coach in 1993. When he started, he sat in the back of the bus with his players on trips so he could learn American Sign Language. The school requires everyone to use ASL when they speak in the presence of a deaf person.

“If you teach me the language,” Georgetown told his players. “I’m going to teach you the game of football.”

When Georgetown speaks now, he signs at the same time without thinking about it.

Georgetown spent most of the next 15 years as either the head coach or an assistant, helping the team win six national titles. He stepped away entirely in 2008 for a role in the school’s administration. Three years ago, Georgetown became head coach again after the head coach at the time left to work at another public school.

Unlike most public and private schools throughout the state, the Mississippi School for the Deaf doesn’t hold practice during the spring or summer. Players live throughout the state, so there are no early morning workouts, no two-a-days. Practice starts the first week of school, games about a month later. There’s little time to learn a new system; Georgetown’s first year back, the team went 1-6.

“He wasn’t used to us, or maybe we hadn’t experienced his way of playing,” senior running back and safety Kenmarkis Meeks said using ASL, which was interpreted by Kaler. “He had to evaluate the team and figure out how to scheme for us.”

A year later, the team won all eight of its games and grabbed the first of its back-to-back national championships. Without a single game to decide a champion, the players found out in the cafeteria. They all received national championship rings. Georgetown wears his every day.

“We’re showing through football we have pride in our school,” senior lineman Frederick Nelson said through Kaler.

Georgetown and the school want that pride to continue, and they are planning for the future. He hopes Marcus Erving, a hard-of-hearing assistant coach who played at MSD, will one day take over as head coach.

Years from now, the players hope to bring their children to show them the championship banners and the pictures on the walls throughout the school. And Georgetown doesn’t believe the school is done adding banners.

“We look forward,” Georgetown said, “to winning another national championship.”

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Information from: The Clarion Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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