Pre-game motivation as the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf hosted Mounds View High School on January 9, 2016 in Faribault. (MATT BLEWETT Special to the Star Tribune)
FARIBAULT, MINN. – Mounds View senior Tyler Fairchild, eager to apply three years of American Sign Language outside the classroom, did not expect a basketball game to be his proving ground.
The Mustangs played the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD) on Jan. 9 in what was likely the first time a Class 4A metro-area program came to the tiny Faribault school. Mounds View’s enrollment of 1,650 students dwarfs the 50 who attend the academy.
Fairchild, a guard, watched whenever possible as academy players and coaches communicated with fluttering hands during stoppages, timeouts or during play.
“Their finger spelling is a lot faster than what we see in class,” Fairchild said.
Getting players to see a different reality was the point of scheduling the game, Mounds View coach David Leiser said. He became intrigued after watching the team defeat his former assistant coach and the Academy for Science and Agriculture of Vadnais Heights last February.
“I was honestly mesmerized,” Leiser said. “I thought it was so cool how they communicated with each other. And they were good, too. They can compete. And one of the great things about basketball is that it brings people together from different cultures, communities and cities.”
The academy, which opened in 1863, sits just south of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s campus. Academy students come from all over Minnesota. This season’s basketball team includes players from Kittson County and Cook.
The game was played in the Lauritsen Gymnasium, a small building built in 1931. Banners recognize the academy’s success in sports ranging from basketball to football to volleyball.
An inspired effort from the home team taught Mounds View players an important lesson. The Trojans, with only four players on the roster 6-foot or taller, dashed and darted throughout the first half.
“The boys all week were talking about Mounds View, Mounds View, Mounds View,” Trojans coach Lee Jones said through interpreter Cheryl Anderson, a special education program assistant.
About 12 minutes into the game, the teams traded driving layups and then three-pointers. Other than clapping, academy players celebrated without a sound. The home fans, many of whom communicated through sign language, let out audible cheers after big plays.
MSAD tied Mounds View 31-31 at halftime. Jones lauded his squad for playing the best offense he had seen all season. An inspired Trojans’ team got Mounds View’s attention.
“They wanted to win,” Fairchild said. “And I think the first half, they beat us.”
The visitors were emotionally and physically tired after losing a conference game the night before. No matter, Leiser told them at halftime.
“You could see how much playing for this academy means to them,” Leiser said. “They put their heart and soul in. So I said, ‘We’re Mounds View. We have a lot to play for, too. We need to be proud when we come out on the floor.’ ”
Mounds View applied more defensive pressure in the second half and rolled to a 75-40 victory. But the final score isn’t what will be remembered.
“We’ll remember that ‘Wow, we played against a 4A school,’ ” Trojans’ junior forward Kyrell Cummings said through Anderson. “We can check it off our bucket list.”
The Mustangs came away impressed with the host Trojans’ hustle and grit.
“It brings you down to earth and makes you realize how lucky you are to be able to hear and talk,” Mounds View senior forward Nate Albers said. “I have no idea how they do it. It’s remarkable.”
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574