Dayton Daily News
By Tom Archdeacon, Staff Writer
Star Can’t Hear Cheering Crowd
ARCANUM — In the last home game of his extraordinary high school football career, Arcanum senior Dustin Shiverdecker will do everything — except for one thing — that a guy could do tonight.
He’ll play halfback against visiting Covington. On defense, he’ll line up at outside linebacker. If the Trojans need him to switch to cornerback, he’ll do that, too. He’ll handle the kicking chores. And the punting.
He’s one of Arcanum’s most versatile players and one of the big reasons the team has turned around its season. After opening 0-3, it has won five of its last six games.
And tonight, when the Trojans marching band takes the field at halftime, he very well could be out there with it performing “Sweet Caroline,” the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” He’s a member of the band’s percussion section, and the only time he doesn’t join it is when he’s playing football.
The guy everyone calls Shivy is one of the most popular students in the small Darke County school. Besides football, he’s a standout wrestler, a sprinter on the track team and one of the top long jumpers in the Cross County Conference. He’s also a budding cook and something of an artist and, as football coach Jason Stephan put it, “He’s one of those guys you enjoy being around, both as a coach and a teacher. He’s just a terrific kid.”
That’s why folks will be cheering tonight when he escorts his parents, Ryan and Angel, onto the field for Senior Night festivities. Unfortunately, though, he won’t be able to hear that heartfelt salute.
He’s been totally deaf since birth.
Although at age 5 he was fitted with a cochlear implant — a surgically affixed electronic device that his dad said gives him up to 85 percent hearing of a sort in one ear — he doesn’t wear it during football games.
“We tried it freshman year but the moisture under his helmet made it shut down,” said his mom. “We tried cleaning it and changing batteries, but it just kept going out.”
So now Dustin plays football by relying on reading lips, hand signals — a sort of gerrymandered sign language the players and coaches came up with — and moving when he sees the snap of the football.
The system is working. As a running back, he has 386 yards on 77 carries this season. As a defender he has 59½ tackles in nine games. He ran for a decisive touchdown in a victory over Bethel last week. In the come-from-behind 15-12 upset of Ansonia this year, he scored all the Trojans’ second-half points, kicking a 23-yard field goal and then wrestling a 16-yard touchdown reception away from a defender in the end zone.
When he makes a big play at home games, Dustin instinctively looks up to the top corner of the bleachers and finds his mom, who stands there reflecting the roar of the crowd in her smile and then quickly relays an “atta-boy” with some sign language of her own.
“I can’t hear the cheers,” Dustin said, “but I always look for my mom and her reaction lets me know, and I feel good.”
A big decision
When Dustin was a baby, his parents sensed something wasn’t quite right because he didn’t always respond like he should. Angel said by the time he was 3, they were told he just needed tubes in his ears.
“We got them, but two weeks later we took him in for a check-up and right off they said, ‘Your son is deaf.’ At first we were devastated. It was like, ‘Where do we go? What do we do?’ We didn’t know anybody and Ryan and I were so young as parents, but we just tried to grasp all the information we could.”
As he thought about those times, Ryan just shook his head.
“We went to Children’s (Medical Center). We went to Cincinnati and met the deaf community there. And then we heard about cochlear implants and met with some people who had them.”
In the process they stepped into an often heated debate — manualism vs. oralism — that goes back some 300 years in the deaf community. One group believes deaf students are better educated through sign language. The other believes in education through spoken language.
“We took Dustin to a school for the deaf in Cincinnati and they wanted to keep him there during the week and then we could come get him and be weekend parents,” said Angel, who is a child support investigator for Darke County. “We fought that. We said, ‘No, he’s part of our family and we’ll parent him at home.’ We’re a hearing family and we wanted him to be part of that, not separated from us.
“We did a lot of soul searching on what to do. The deaf community pretty much hates cochlear implants. To them it’s like turning your back on that culture, but we decided to go that direction because Dustin’s life here, the community here, is all hearing and we wanted him to be a big part of it.”
According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, there were some 28,400 children in the United States using cochlear implants as of last December. Although the sound that’s provided isn’t as rich as natural hearing — and can be difficult to decipher in noisy settings — it works, as 5-year-old Dustin found out in jarring fashion when doctors first fitted him with the device and turned it on.
You’ve got to remember he’d never heard anything until then, so when they turned it on there were suddenly all these different sounds and he cried and pulled at the thing to get it off,” Ryan said. “But then everything became a new experience. He heard a bird and it was like, ‘What the heck was that?’ ”
From kindergarten through his sophomore year in high school, Dustin was accompanied by a woman who was his classroom interpreter. The past two years, though, he has gone without her because Ryan and Angel and most of the Arcanum teachers thought Dustin could handle school on his own and they felt sometimes an interpreter was a crutch he could fall back on.
While Ryan went to football practices when Dustin first joined varsity to help with communication problems — and Angel still accompanies him to various school conferences, the most recent a meeting with the Jostens representative who was explaining class rings — the couple has stressed that their son tackle things on his own.
Sports has helped, and over the years Dustin has taken part in almost everything Arcanum has to offer. Along the way, though, there have been a couple of rules.
“No quitting anything halfway,” Ryan said. “You start something, you finish it.”
Stephan said the couple also instructed the coaches not to treat their son any differently than they would anybody else: “They said yell at him the same as you would anybody else. Demand the same. Don’t expect any less.
“Sure, there have been times when it’s been frustrating for Dustin and for us because of a communication barrier here or there, but we’ve always gotten through it.”
‘The right attitude’
Had you been at football practice the other day, you would have seen two of the Trojans assistant coaches — Doug Morris and Jason Hart — giving Dustin face-to-face instruction before many of the plays.
In the classroom, the learning has sometimes gone in the opposite direction as well, said band director Doug Albright:
“Dustin is one of those kids where it’s a growth experience for you to have him in your group. I hear people coming into the classroom grumbling about this or that, but I’ve never seen him that way even one time. I’ve just never seen him act like he’s having a bad day. He has the right attitude.”
And that’s what Stephan said he’ll remember most: “A lot of kids could learn from him. I think of how many might have an ailment or a disability or have been told they can’t do something, so they just accept that. Dustin never has. He just works hard and perseveres.
“After this I know he’ll be successful in life because of the way he’s tackled the challenges here. I really think he could play at a small college somewhere, especially if he just concentrated on one position. Here, in a small school like this, when you have a kid with that kind of athletic ability and aggressiveness you’re forced to play him as much as you can.”
Should the Trojans topple unbeaten Covington tonight they will make the playoffs. But regardless, this will be the last game for Dustin on the Arcanum field.
“Friday night I’ll be sad,” Angel said. “He has done so many things out there — just like in the rest of his life — that have amazed me. It’ll be rough to see it end. I’m sure I’ll be in tears.”
Ryan, who works on the chain crew during games, shook his head: “I’m not really sad. I’m just ready for the next thing in life for him. He impressed me as a child and all through high school, so I want to see what he’s going to do next. He just keeps impressing people.”
No one put that more succinctly than Morris, the Trojans’ defensive coordinator:
“I think a lot of folks here are like me. I don’t look at Dustin as a deaf kid. He’s just a kid. ... One heck of a kid, really.”