Carbon Lehigh IU 21: A Football Dream Forged in Sign Language

Perennial champs Parkland High School lost a big Friday night game. At Saturday practice, backup middle linebacker Alex Ocasio walked up to the coach and asked, “What can I do to make the team better?”

He asked the question using sign language through Susan Arndt, interpreter for Carbon Lehigh IU 21.
“It’s football, so I can’t cry,” Arndt says with a laugh. “I became so proud of him at that moment that I wanted to cry. He doesn’t think about himself. He always thinks about everyone around him and how he can make their lives better because of what they’ve done for him.”

Deaf since birth, Alex had few language skills when he met Arndt as a kindergartner. Today, he is a high school senior, class of 2019, and they are partners on the football field, changing their own lives and the lives around them by bridging worlds through communication.

Arndt interprets for Alex on the field and the sidelines, sometimes using football terminology the two created. His first attempts to pursue his dream of playing football left him sitting on the bench at another school, when they said he was deaf and couldn’t play. But at Parkland, coaches and teammates are learning sign language, the better to communicate with their friend and teammate.

“Football has changed his world,” says Arndt. “It’s made him more confident. I’ve seen him turn from a young man who was very insecure and lost, and into a world of football where he considers this team brothers, and they consider him a brother.”

Plus, she added, “when he became strong in football, he became strong in school. He learned the work ethic from football to study hard in school.”

As a CLIU 21 Educational Interpreter, Arndt works largely with elementary students who are Deaf and hard of hearing. She opens up their worlds, modeling language and vocabulary that expand opportunities for engaging and learning.

“It’s equal access in the classroom, making sure the deaf student has everything that a hearing student would have,” she says. Alex, she adds, inspires those younger students to “fight the adversity that they’ve been dealt and just keep pushing and finding out who they are.”

Arndt and her husband, Rich, have always been supportive, says Alex. Her interpreting at team meetings, practice, and “has helped me feel a part of the team. Her being there has helped me understand what the head coach is trying to convey to me, so I can play my position and improve my skills."

As Alex approaches graduation, Arndt says that football has made him “this confident person who knows that he can do anything he wants to do. He knows that whatever comes at him, he’s not going to listen to people who say he can’t do something.”

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