JACKSON, Miss. (WTOK) - The Mississippi School for the Deaf has a proud athletic tradition – one that includes regional and national championship accolades. Among those programs are both the boys and girls basketball teams. The boys won a regional tournament [Mason Dixon Tournament] featuring 11 schools across the Southeast this January, while the girls placed second.
Both teams compete against other deaf schools as well as public schools, of which the MSD Bulldogs have had success. Sophomore forward Alexis Roberts says that sometimes their level of play will catch their opponents off guard.
“Sometimes they just don’t know but then when we get there and finish the game, they’ll come up to us and say, ‘Wow that was a good game!’” she said. “You know, they’re kinda surprised.”
Players on both teams note that although they always play hard, they put in extra effort against the public schools hoping to dismiss any myths about the abilities of deaf individuals.
“We try to prove them wrong when we play and they start to understand deaf people can play basketball,” said senior forward Fredrick Nelson. “Deaf people can play.”
Girls coach Laura Rushing is in her first year as head coach and directed the Lady Bulldogs to a 13-8 record this season – one that included multiple wins against class 1A schools.
“We’re equal to any other team,” said Rushing. “Some of the girls feel like sometimes you can’t be at that equal level with the rest of the world but we really are – we’re all on the same playing field.”
The players have had to adapt in order to communicate with teammates on the floor – such as dribbling with one hand while signing with the other. Boys Coach Sekoe White says that having a disability is no excuse for any poor play and that the players would have to continue working hard to overcome any adversity.
“I want to teach the boys the importance of hard work,” White said “That’s really the main point. So everyday life – you have to work hard. You have to make good impressions. Hard work is one of those impressions. So hard work, that’s where you succeed at in life.”
The boys team could be named the National Champion for Deaf Schools by the National Deaf Interscholastic Athletic Association. Yet Coach White’s message of hard work transcends basketball and he wants his players to find success beyond the court.
Senior guard Kenmarkis Meeks has scored over 1,000 points in his career at MSD. He mentions the lasting impression that White has had on his players lives both on and off the court.
“Coach Sekoe – he’s always talks about the outside world,” Meeks said. “You know, outside of here the different experiences in life – what we have to learn on the outside world once we graduate, once we leave here. So he tries to help us learn. We have to work hard and education is always first. That’s the one thing he always teaches us.”
For many schools games are played for fun and to win. But for this school, the players are sending a message every time they don their jerseys – a message that White preaches to his players daily.
“So we’re here for one purpose, to show the world that we can do it.”