Katerynne Fuentes is a big football fan. She’s also deaf and not accustomed to finding non-deaf people who can communicate with her using sign language.
So Katerynne, 14, was excited when she stood on the Stony Brook University football field Wednesday and saw nine football players laughing and signing with her and 30 other students from Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf.
“Usually people will write back and forth with me on paper,” Fuentes said through an interpreter. “But these guys understood [signing]. It was really good we could communicate.”
The students’ visit was the first chance outside of the classroom for the players to use the skills they’re learning in their American Sign Language course. The football players and track team member Nikki Fogarty comprise 10 of the 37 students in the current ASL class.
Stony Brook is one of more than 200 colleges and universities nationwide that allow ASL to fulfill students’ foreign language requirement, according to a list compiled by a University of New Mexico linguistics professor. ASL was the third most popular non-English language college course in 2013, and it is surging in popularity while enrollment in language classes overall is declining, according to the Manhattan-based Modern Language Association.
Courtney Rickard, an associate director of athletics at Stony Brook who oversees academic advisers for athletes, said ASL is a good fit for athletes.
“Athletes are used to going down to the field and the court to practice their craft, kicking the football or making free throws,” Rickard said. “The sign language class is very much like that. It gives them an opportunity to be active learners, not passive learners, because they’re using their hands.”
Offensive lineman Jonathan Haynes, 20, of Bowie, Maryland, took two years of high-school Spanish but switched to ASL at Stony Brook.
“I’m a better learner with visual stuff,” he said.
On Wednesday morning, Haynes was throwing the football around with wide receiver Pat Damato, 22, and three Mill Neck students.
Damato, of Wethersfield, Connecticut, smiled when Jonathan Velasquez, 10, of Huntington, gave a hard kick to the football, sending it over Damato’s head. He didn’t know the ASL sign for “kick” so he smiled and gave the boy a thumbs-up.
A few minutes later, Fogarty, 18, the track team member, was signing with Natalie Reyes, 15, of Westbury. Fogarty took ASL in high school and had a working knowledge of the language when she entered Melissa Pendergast-Scriven’s Stony Brook class, so she and Natalie signed about basketball, the Olympics, driving and birthdays.
“I’m turning 16 this Sunday,” Natalie signed.
“This Sunday!” Fogarty signed with a big smile. “Wow!”
Robert Saccente, a Mill Neck teaching assistant, said seeing so many Stony Brook students sign may buoy the confidence of the students.
“They think school is the only place to sign,” Saccente said through an interpreter. “Now they know out in the world there are many people learning to sign. ”