Silence is a way of life for hearing-impaired football players Anthony and Frank Yodice, but that doesn't mean the two brothers haven't created a joyful noise at Clarke High School.
Anthony, a senior, is a wiry 6-3, 190-pound two-way starter on the interior line. He's the outspoken, stubborn one, refusing to wear a hearing aid inside his football helmet or to class. Frank, a junior, is a brawny 6-3, 220-pound nose guard who was about to break into the starting lineup before being sidelined for three weeks with a knee injury. He is the shy one who wears a hearing aid at all times because his problem is more acute.
If you look the Yodice boys in the eye, they can hear what you say and answer your questions because they are accomplished lip-readers. They always look you in the eye, partly for practical reasons and partly because that's their personalities.
"I never thought of it as a disadvantage," said Anthony, who related that he and his brothers were born with their hearing impairments. "It's part of me. I live with it. Our mom [Gina Yodice] always said we could be whatever we want. We were raised like we didn't have a hearing loss and she wants us to be role models for little kids with the same problem."
So, with the help of a football-mad older brother, T.J. Reilly, who is not hearing-impaired, Anthony and Frank Yodice picked up pigskins at an early age and haven't stopped playing the sport, even if they struggle to hear the roar of the crowd or, more importantly, the quarterback's cadence.
"Well, I don't have to worry about a hard count. I can't hear it anyway," Frank joked, acknowledging that even though he'd love to play tight end, he is forced to play defense because, "That's easier for me. Just watch the ball and go."
Nothing frustrates Anthony and Frank more than being offsides. Whether it's the 5-yard penalty their team incurs during a game or the 10 push-ups coach John Boyle demands of the entire team when any Ram jumps offsides in practice or during wind sprints. "I hate being offsides," Anthony declared as Frank emphatically nodded his head in agreement.
Anthony has only been whistled for that infraction once in a game this season, according to Boyle, and that was when a substitute quarterback altered the cadence. Otherwise, it's a point of pride with the Yodice boys to stay onsides. On offense, Anthony, a guard, looks to adjacent tackle James Morace when there is an audible in Clarke's no-huddle offense or turns to face his quarterback so he can lip-read the changed play. On defense, linebacker and captain Andrew Eannucci subtly taps Frank on the hip so he knows which direction to go on a blitz, though Boyle says they have decoy signals so teams don't pick up on the tactic.
For those dreaded end-of-practice sprints, the Clarke quarterbacks bark out the orders for the team, so Anthony and Frank either demand that those instructions be shouted loudly or make sure to be positioned so they can lip-read the cadences. "They never go offsides in practice," Boyle said. "They are so focused on not wanting to screw up and cost their teammates pushups."
Boyle adjusts, too, by raising the volume of his pep talks and chalk talks. "He's loud," Frank said with a grin.
"I'm a coach, what do you expect?" Boyle countered.
With rare exceptions, the hearing impairments are hardly an impediment for Anthony and Frank Yodice. "Our teammates treat us like regular kids, and that's what we want," Anthony said. They are assimilated into the Nassau BOCES Program for Hearing and Vision Services that drew the brothers from Brentwood to Clarke, located in Westbury. Anthony now takes all regular classes while Frank mixes in some BOCES courses in which he uses an interpreter in class so he can hear his teachers.
"I don't ever feel I have to convince anyone about anything," said the self-confident Anthony, who would prefer being a wide receiver, but accepts playing guard because that's where Boyle needs him. "I just adapt around them. They don't have to adapt around me. I'll take care of it."
Frank is not as self-assured nor as much of a football fanatic as Anthony, who only plays one sport. Frank also plays lacrosse, using an interpreter on the sidelines to get his coach's instructions relayed to him during games, and said he almost gave up football before this season. "But then I felt bad for Coach Boyle," he said with a laugh and a nod to the lack of depth at Clarke, which plays in Nassau IV, the county's small-school league.
Boyle, in his 26th season as head coach at Clarke, has had experience with hearing-impaired players before, with the BOCES program in place for more than a decade. "Each time we get a student like that, it's an education for me," Boyle said. "It's not just the hearing, but the other issues that go with that. Each case is different; each kid is different. You can see that Anthony is much more confident and outgoing, but Frank is willing to do whatever I ask. They are both so personable and they're always smiling."
Except on those rare occasions when they jump offsides.