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The California School for the Deaf football team fell short of title, but still made history

CSDR coaches and players watch from the sideline as the Cubs dominate Santa Clarita Christian on Nov. 6, 2021.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)
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The football field lights turned off for the last time this season. The cameras, shutters chirping throughout game nights like an army of crickets, are gone. The reporters went home. The pads and the helmets are tucked away in storage.

No fuss. California School for the Deaf in Riverside had its greatest season in program history, drawing national attention along the way in a storybook season, undefeated through 12 games. CSDR lost in the Southern Section 8-man Division 2 championship game 74-22 to Canoga Park Faith Baptist on Nov. 27. Heartbreak. The narrative ran out of words, one chapter short.

The stream of articles and television crews has run dry. It’s basketball season now at CSDR.

Keith Adams doesn’t stand on the sidelines anymore, eyes popping out of his sockets as his hands craft deft instruction through American Sign Language to his players. The football coach sits in the school gymnasium’s stands now, watching his players trade green grass and pigskin for hardwood and leather. Passive.

“It was bizarre,” Adams said of watching the team’s first game Tuesday night. “Seeing them all on the field, and now I’m sitting back. Doing nothing.”

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It’s a small school, so all but two of the football players are also on the basketball team, Adams said. Practice started two days after that Saturday loss in the title game. The world keeps turning.

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There was a line of cars with media members every day over the last two weeks of the season, Adams said.

CNN. ESPN. NBC. CBS. They all started blending together. Adams knew it was good PR for the school, but said his players were getting a little tired of the redundancy of interviews.

With the exposure came recognition. Adams’ son Trevin, the team’s gritty quarterback who accounted for 75 — not a typo — touchdowns on the season, said strangers would ask for pictures with him.

“We would go out to eat, and people would recognize us, and they would be like, ‘Oh, let me pay for your meal,’” Trevin said. “It’s a little weird to have random people act like they know you.”

Heading into the final week of the season, the Cubs were 12-0. CSDR last had a winning record in 2011, and never made it to a championship game. It was a dream story, and one the team was happy to embrace, given their collective goal of trying to dispel the hearing community’s oft-biased or unfavorable perception of the deaf.

But that attention led to distraction, Adams feels. He told his players to ignore it, but they really couldn’t.

“I think they were feeling more pressure in their championship game,” Adams said.

Trevin doesn’t really agree with his dad on that. What was most frustrating, that Saturday, were the injuries.

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In the third quarter against Faith Baptist, Trevin pulled the ball down for a run and took a hard shot to the head. Off the field, he was evaluated for a concussion, and ruled out for the rest of the game.

The Cubs had gotten punched in the mouth to start the game. Faith Baptist jumped out to a 28-0 lead as CSDR made a ton of mistakes, Adams said. But he was optimistic the team could come back, and told them so. In the second quarter, they’d cut the Contenders’ lead to 28-22.

But as the game went on, players started dropping like flies. Jory Valencia, one of the team’s top receivers, was knocked out. So was backup quarterback Kaden Adams, also the coach’s son. Any spark of a comeback was quickly snuffed out.

Brothers Trevin (4) and Kaden Adams (5) celebrate on the sideline during CSDR's playoff win on Nov. 6, 2021.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

As time ran out, hands went to foreheads or to runny eyes and players were left to pick up the pieces of broken hearts.

“It was really hard to sit there and just watch,” Trevin said of being injured. “Especially when you’re on the outside, knowing what you could be doing. It was hard — it was quite the disappointment.”

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After the game, CSDR elementary, middle and high school students came over to congratulate the players on their season.

All year long, as wins piled up, they’d been chasing the goal of a championship. To have a concrete title that would stand forever — to make the deaf community proud.

“We were that close,” coach Adams said.

The basketball team lost its first game 54-44 to Loma Linda Academy, and has started the season 1-3. Watching the Loma Linda game from the stands, Adams said, his players didn’t look healed after the quick turnaround.

“I felt bad for the players,” Adams said. “I wish [they] would’ve had no game this week … the energy was just not there.”

The fact that CSDR made it so deep into the football playoffs — where no Cubs had gone before — created the short turnaround.

San Mateo Serra football coach Patrick Walsh battled depression before helping fight for return of high school sports. Now his team plays for a title.

Trevin said most of the schools for the deaf around the country reached out to CSDR to offer their support. The season might’ve ended in disappointment, but the overall body of work served as inspiration. The Cubs lost a battle, but they won a war.

“Hearing families with deaf family members were able to see our example, and that was probably the coolest thing, being able to really be a representative for the deaf community,” Trevin said. “I definitely feel like we have changed the perspective of realizing, like, ‘Deaf can do it.’”

The quarterback said he’s actually grateful the basketball season started so soon after the loss, so there wasn’t much time to stew without an outlet. Even though they might be in the grieving process, basketball coach Matt Cerar said he hasn’t felt the loss hanging over the team’s head.

Instead, they’re using it as fuel.

“Right now, they’re unsatisfied,” Cerar said. “The chip on their shoulder as a result of the championship — OK, so bring that with you.”


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