They won and we can too—against all odds. This is the story of unlikely champions.
The Texas School for the Deaf’s football team, the Texas Rangers, won their first ever State Football Championship in their 162-year history. They achieved the state championship win in the midst of Covid-19, the worst health crisis in US history, also the most disruptive events for athletics and education. The Texas School for the Deaf Texas Rangers defeated Veritas Academy 63-32, winning their first high school championship over a seasoned team expected to win again, as they had many years past.
They won and when they did—a little piece of me won too!
When these young people—shut off from the world of sound around them–prevailed in spite of it all, it gives me faith that I can overcome the many challenges that confront me every day, that make me sometimes doubt I’ll ever be able to accomplish my goals and vision for my life.
Carol Kallendorf, my partner in business and life, share a bit of the world of the Texas School for the Deaf. We live in a South Austin neighborhood within walking distance of the school, which is located on historic Congress Avenue near our Austin home. We watch the team work out. We stop for a moment on our walks down Congress Avenue, as young people from the deaf school love to visit with our standard poodles, Winston and Roosevelt. We love sign language, it’s so beautiful, evocative and engaging.
We as people tend to isolate people with disabilities—we are sorry for their plight, but don’t want them to be too near us. The Texas legislature created the School for the Deaf in 1856, with an enormous apportionment at the time of $10,000. It is in sight of downtown Austin today, but when it was founded, it was in the middle of nowhere. It was accessed by ferry, a somewhat perilous journey, across the Colorado River into what is now South Austin. The Congress Street Bridge would not be built for 50 more years.
I was so excited when I saw our Texas School for the Deaf, their coach and players featured on the NBC Today Show, and I have learned several things from the school that we can all use in these times.
1. As with Texas School for the Deaf,Use Your Limitations to Build Your Strengths. When we see our limitations, we can be overwhelmed. But the Texas School for the deaf shows us we can find a way to succeed in any times. The School for the Deaf’s Superintendent, Claire Bugen, shared on the Today Show that she almost cancelled the football season because of several virus infections meant the school didn’t have enough players to field.
“What if we drop down from 11-man to 6-man football?” she thought. Then they could play and not disappoint the school and the fans in a year when everyone needed success. So if the playing field doesn’t work for us anymore, we can find other ways to play. Texas School for the Deaf was willing to find an innovative way to move forward.
2. As Did Texas School for the Deaf, We Must Learn to Play by the New Rules. Coach John Moore explained, 6-man football rules were very different from the rules we had followed. The distance between yard markers was shorter. You had to change the plays you had always depended to. And for the rest of us, what we did before doesn’t work now.
In the Covid-19 pandemic, there will be new winners and losers. It’s heartbreaking to see great businesses fail. It’s inspirational to see professionals and businesses succeed through innovative solutions. In some cases, we have to change the heart of what we’ve been doing in order to be successful. Willingness to embrace radically new ways of doing things will be the key now and going forward.
3. Drawing Strength from the Energy of Community—Family, Friends, Team Members. One of the greatest strengths of the deaf community is their ability to bond together in a tight-knit community. They relate to each other through sign language and have a unique relationship with each other that they love and trust.
One of the greatest emerging outcomes of this pandemic has been drawing closer to the people around us whom we value and trust. For decades now, we’ve been lost in ourselves and a world of technology, often relating more to the people we don’t know than to the people we do know. Today we value the strength of our friends and family. The stakes are high in the success of the organizations for whom we work. We’re drawing closer to our teams, realizing that we each share the bond of our own futures. We can draw new strength and energy from those bonds.
A deaf school football team became the tightest of communities within a tight community. Coach John Moore, an extremely caring, committed, and charismatic leader, built the bonds of a team that would do whatever it took to win. Winning alone is not a human possibility. When we bond together as community, we win.
4. The Advantage of Eliminating the Roar of the Crowd. It is impossible to under-estimate the difficulty of playing a football game in total silence. The Rangers created a unique way of staying on sides by placing a huge drum and drumstick on the sideline of the field so that they could beat the drum. The players couldn’t hear the sound, but they could feel the vibrations of the drum and move forward into play with the vibration.
The roar of the crowd is so fundamental to sports games that when teams today play in stadiums largely without fans, networks play artificial cheering, boos, and reactions to what’s going on in the field.
Yet the roar of the crowd around us today can often become the classic dog whistle. When we hear people say predictable things, we move in predictable instead of innovative ways—we do what we’ve always predictably done. What we’ve always done may be the right thing to do—or it may be the way over the edge of a cliff. This pandemic is a great opportunity to turn off the roar of the crowd and listen to your own inner voice. Feel the strong vibrations of that drum…tune out the noise.
Building on Impossibilities—the Pandemic as a Stepping Stone to Greater Success
There has never been a time when we have been more acutely aware of what we can’t do. We can’t meet with the family, team members, or people we need to connect with. Thank God for Zoom, but it isn’t the same thing as meeting in person.
My pervasive mindset is wariness. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more wary of all situations now. When I go to a store, masked with social distancing, I’m still wondering in the back of my mind if I’m putting my very life in danger. Yet Carol and I are focused on changing the weariness and wariness that we’re all felling into seeing what we couldn’t see before without all the background noise we usually experience. Many of our clients are doing the same, and they are having record years. I cannot tell you how excited I was to hear about the Texas Rangers School for the Deaf and their historic win during these times. They turned handicaps into hurrays! That’s our job and they are huge examples for us all.