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With Their Aid

Sierra soccer program embraces player with hearing impairment

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With Their Aid

Sierra High freshman Jocelyn Pantane was diagnosed with hearing loss at an early age. To help her hear in close quarters, she wears hearing aids.

Photos by WAYNE THALLANDER/


POSTED April 14, 2014 12:14 a.m.

Jocelyn Patane was nervous, intimidated and at times, lost on the wide-open stretches of the soccer field.

There were moments of frustration and uncertainty. The Sierra High freshman wasn’t sure about her movement on the field, her ability to control the ball, or how she would mesh with her teammates.

“At first, I thought they weren’t going to be able to cooperate with me,” Patane said, “because I’m a whole different kind of person.”

The casual observer might write these emotions and moments of awkwardness off as normal teen-aged angst, but there is something else at play. Patane, 14, is hard of hearing and utilizes flesh-colored hearing aids to engage in close-quarter conversation. For everything else, including classroom lecture, she requires the assistance of a full-time interpreter, Danicia Booher.

In a sport predicated on communication, Patane operates virtually in the dark. Save for a microphone worn by coach Shaniqua Ingram and Booher’s hands in the huddle, Patane is often left to fend for herself on the field.

She hasn’t let that stop her from enjoying the beautiful game – or her teammates.

“When I started here, it was awkward because they had tricks that I didn’t know,” Patane said before the start of a 6-1 victory over Oakdale High last week.

“As I got in here, I learned all the things that I should know and got more time.”

Patane isn’t new to the game. She has played organized soccer in the past, but the stakes always seem much higher on the fields at Sierra.

The Timberwolves are one of the most decorated programs in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section, and they’re measured annually not by their peers but by the greats that have graduated from the program.

Patane and the current roster of players are reminded of that success on a daily basis. Their team sweaters pay homage to the varsity championships of yesteryear. Different colored stars illustrate the number of Valley Oak League (11) and section titles (four) Sierra has annexed through the years.

Patane belongs to that sorority now, and like many of her predecessors, she’s finding ways to impact the culture on campus.

“In the beginning, I didn’t know if I could do it,” Ingram said of coaching a player with a hearing disability. But with “each game, each practice, she is making me better by making her better. My patience with her and other players has become extremely better.”

Know this about Patane: She won’t win a scoring title or command major minutes down the stretch. Not this season, anyway. The part-time forward has appeared in 12 of the team’s 16 matches with two goals.

That said, Patane might be the most remarkable player in the south county for what she’s accomplished in the face of adversity. While players use their ability to listen and speak to create pathways around the field and scoring chances for their team, Patane has had to improvise and take advantage of technology.

Ingram wears a microphone around her neck during games. The microphone – called an FM System – is synched to a device that attaches to Patane’s hearing aids, creating a direct line of communication between player and coach.

“It goes straight to my ears. It’s clearer and louder,” said Patane, who talks with a slight accent. “It’s more of a one-on-one thing. When I’m out on the field and I’m not in the right position, if she says ‘Push up,’ I’ll push up. I’m able to hear her.”

The Timberwolves have also become adept at communicating without words. Patane has taught many of her teammates how to sign phrases and words essential to the game – and a few not-so essential. For instance, sophomore captain Alyssa Taboa can sign “I love bacon” and “I love pancakes.”

“It’s been a challenge, but I feel like we’ve overcome those obstacles,” Taboa said. “We’ve learned hand gestures to teach her to come to the ball or mark somebody up. We’re learning from each other.

“It’s nothing like I’ve ever dealt with before, but I love it. I love her as a person and a player. She’s just amazing. With how much she’s overcome and how much she’s improved, it really is astonishing to me and the whole team. We’re all noticing it.”

Ingram marvels at Patane’s development as a player. She auditioned for the cheerleading and volleyball teams in the fall, but has found her niche on the pitch. The fleet-footed freshman has evolved into a versatile option off the bench; a player Ingram can use on the back or forward line.

“Her confidence level has totally improved,” Ingram said. “She was one of those players that said ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I don’t want to call for the ball. I don’t want to touch the ball.’ Now she wants the ball at her feet. ... She’s learning.”

And at times, flourishing.

Patane has scored twice – once in a 15-0 rout of Lathrop and again in an 8-0 victory over Weston Ranch.

Each score was met with a muted celebration. A few high-fives and a smile. But inside, Patane, a player who once struggled with some of soccer’s basic skills, was dancing.

“Everyone high-fived me and jumped,” she said with a giggle. “In my head, I felt like dancing, but I just walked off.”

Patane’s mother, Michella, says the hearing impairment is hereditary but still very much a mystery. Michella’s parents were deaf. The condition skipped Michella and her siblings, but resurfaced with Jocelyn and her older brother, Matthew, also a student-athlete at Sierra.

Matthew, who has wrestled and played baseball for the Timberwolves, is deaf. Michella said there is a significant decibel difference between deaf and hard of hearing on the hearing loss spectrum.

Adding to the mystery: Patane’s younger sister does not suffer from a hearing impairment.

If Patane’s been dealt a bad hand, she’s not letting on. There is an ease about the way she moves around the field now; a fearlessness about the way she tackles every obstacle. It’s clear, her disability and lack of experience have become after-thoughts.

“She’s never been one to be shy,” Michella said. “She’ll pretty much try anything once.”

To those on her side, Patane is a bona fide soccer player – a sister in a hallowed sorority, Taboa said – pushing the team toward the top of the Valley Oak League frosh-soph table.

It was Taboa and Briana Oseguera who embraced Patane, welcoming her onto a tight roster that features 11 sophomores.

Taboa said she sensed Patane’s struggles with the game and communication during the early stages of the season and pulled her aside to offer some advice and instruction.

The gesture softened Patane’s guard and eased her fears. Her words fell not on deaf ears.

“I felt like they weren’t going to include me in their activities. A few people spoke up. ‘Hey, there’s Jocelyn over there. Why don’t you ask her to come and join in?’ I felt good about that,” she said. “Usually I’m on the way outside. My interpreter will stand out and she’ll sign (what the coach is saying). Alyssa told me, ‘Hey, you’re part of the team. Come on in.’

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