On Sunday, Feb. 13, California School for the Deaf, Riverside, football team’s historic year of highs and lows will end with one final peak: A Super Bowl appearance.
The Cubs’ four co-captains will be on the field at SoFi Stadium during the coin toss for Super Bowl LVI.
“The Rams are my favorite team, so it’s the right time for us to be invited to the Super Bowl,” said sophomore Jory Valencia, 17. “It’s a big honor.”
After the glare of the national spotlight during their championship run, the players are tired of interviews, but the co-captains expressed enthusiasm in videos released by the school Friday, Feb. 11.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” junior quarterback Trevin Adams, 17, said.
This year, after almost two years off due to the coronavirus pandemic, and for the first time in the school’s 68-year history, the Cubs played in a CIF Southern Section championship game. But they faced the San Fernando Valley’s unstoppable Faith Baptist, which routed them 74-22 in the Division 2 final, a bitter end to a historic 12-1 season.
But the Cubs’ story wasn’t over.
They were invited to SoFi Stadium as guests of the Los Angeles Chargers in November and a film about Coach Keith Adams is in development. Support has poured in from across the nation — including from the governor’s office and “American Idol” star-turned-talk-show-host Kelly Clarkson — to upgrade the school’s undersized football field (each side only seats about 25 people) and the portable gas-powered lights used to illuminate the field.
The NFL invited Adams and Valencia, along with Christian Jimenez and Enos Zornoza to be honorary captains witnessing the coin toss.
The team’s “grit showcased to other football players and people across that country that the deaf community defies stereotypes, that they can do anything with hard work and dedication,” an NFL news release reads.
They’ll be there, in uniform, alongside fellow honorary captains tennis legend Billie Jean King, and female football players from the Flag Football League of Champions, the Inglewood Chargers and Watts Rams, as part of the NFL honoring the 50th anniversary of Title IX and highlighting inclusion and diversity in sports. Two deaf artists also will be participating in the halftime show, according to the NFL.
“I think this is the first time we’re seeing deaf people in a new role at the Super Bowl,” school spokesperson Erika Thompson said Friday. “I don’t think a deaf person has had that honor before. Usually there’s just the sign language interpreter for the national anthem and I think that’s the only representation for deaf people there. So it’s just exciting to have that representation for the hearing public.”
The disappointing end to the Cubs’ football season didn’t break the students’ spirit.
“Their competitive spirit is still strong,” Thompson said. “It’s carried over to our basketball season.”
Both the girls’ and boys‘ varsity basketball teams won their first league championships in decades (since 1986 for the girls, since 1999 for the boys) and are competing for CIF-SS titles.
Although it’s often forgotten by the hearing world, deaf players have been competing since the beginning. The huddle was invented in the 1890s by deaf players at Gallaudet University, the private university for the deaf in Washington, D.C. They realized their discussion of plays was being understood by a rival player who knew sign language. The players huddled up to prevent their signs from being seen, and the practice was eventually widely adopted by hearing players.
Ironically, Riverside deaf school players don’t typically huddle, Thompson said. As far as they know, the Cubs haven’t faced any teams who understand sign language, but the team uses code names for plays anyway.
Super Bowl Sunday won’t be the end of the Cubs’ story: All but the two graduating seniors are expected to play again next year.