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Deafness can't keep athlete off the court

The bounce of the ball, swish of a net, buzz of the scoreboard — all are sounds taken for granted at a basketball game.

Not so for Clearwater High School's Jordan Jernigan.

Born without the ability to hear, Jernigan has had cochlear implants since he was 18 months old. The devices, which contain an external microphone that Jernigan calls his processors, act as permanent hearing aids. Despite the artificial help, Jernigan still has problems hearing everyday things.

"He handles it very well," Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt said. "It helps everyone that he's just a great kid."

The rising senior hasn't let his deafness stop him from pursuing athletics. Though football proved difficult, he has been playing basketball since eighth grade.

Jernigan played for Pinellas Park High's junior varsity team his sophomore year. Before his junior year, Jernigan transferred to Clearwater where he made the varsity squad as a center.

Jernigan appeared in only 10 games for the Tornadoes, who went 13-14 last year. In his limited time on the floor during his season, Jernigan scored seven points. Highlighting his season was a four-point performance against his former school.

Jernigan faces obvious obstacles every time he enters a game. His deafness adds a level of difficulty for coaches drawing up plays and referees trying to officiate. Jernigan and his coaching staff have come up with creative ways to overcome those obstacles.

Before every game, Shaneyfelt will alert the officiating crew of the unique situation. As far as running plays, Shaneyfelt and Jernigan have developed their own form of sign language to avoid confusion on the court.

"Offensively, if we have a play called Carolina, I'll just make the shape of a C with my hand," said Shaneyfelt, who has been coaching basketball (girls, then boys) at Clearwater for more than 20 years. "We just make a letter or symbol, some kind of motion that we know we've established as a signal for the play that we're going to run."

His implants make communication with teammates and coaches on the bench effortless, and the sign language works well when he's on the court — as was evident in a recent summer league game.

But that ease doesn't always extend beyond his team.

"Sometimes I can't hear the whistle when it's a dead ball and I keep fighting for it," Jernigan said. "Whistles, referees talking to me, it's extremely difficult and it's frustrating."

Clearwater's practices run smoothly for Jernigan and Shaneyfelt thanks to open communication between the two.

"(Shaneyfelt) will tell me what we're doing before we start," Jernigan said. "I like to practice without my processor because it prepares me for the real game."

"Every once in a while, I question whether he has typical teenage selective hearing," Shaneyfelt joked. "But he's a great kid."

Jernigan looks to be a rallying point for the Tornadoes and deaf athletes.

"I've met a lot of people who are deaf and they like playing basketball but they don't have enough confidence," Jernigan said. "I try to show them that you can do something if you have enough heart and desire."

Deafness can't keep athlete off the court 07/01/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2014 10:33am]
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