Behind The ScenesESPNU

All-deaf California high school team part of tonight’s historic ESPN telecast

Martin Khodabakhshian, E:60 senior producer, whose film helped inspire ESPN’s interest in telecasting the game:

“To have the opportunity to direct the documentary ‘Silent Nights Lights’ with my incredibly talented and passionate production team was a true honor and blessing.

“And now to see that lead to ESPN airing one of their games live on our air? In the words of CSD Fremont’s head football coach Warren Keller, this is going to be “a historic event for the deaf community and the school.” That right there says it all.

“I’m so thrilled that we as a company are covering the school and game the way we are, and bringing a national spotlight to the accomplishments that the deaf community is accomplishing especially at the California School for the Deaf-Fremont.

“It’s going to be one of the most memorable events of my career to be allowed to be a part of the broadcast and help in any way I can and be on the ground this week. Simply amazing.”

– Carrie Kreiswirth

For some, the face value of this high school football matchup is merely sport — two California football teams going head to head. What viewers will learn, however, is that this is much more than just another football game. For the first time in its history, ESPN will air a game featuring an all-deaf team.

Tonight (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2), as part of the GEICO ESPN High School Football Showcase, Woodland Christian will face California School for the Deaf-Fremont (CSD), a team that might not be able to hear the action, but plays with the same heart and passion of any football team.

“Our mission is simply to pay attention and capture how this team plays the game,” said John Vassallo, ESPN senior coordinating producer. “We want to take the viewer into the classroom, the meeting rooms, locker room and on campus to experience what the student-athletes experience at their school.”

This matchup will incorporate several unique production elements into the telecast, including a Silent Drive, where one or two drives will be aired in complete silence; announcement of starting lineups (which will be signed); in-game interviews with the mothers of several CSD players; and coverage of the national anthem, which will be signed by the CSD cheerleaders.

Photos and videos from a watch party at Gallaudet University, where several CSD graduates now attend, will also be shared during the game. Gallaudet, which is located in Washington, D.C., is a private university for deaf students.

The California School for the Deaf was the subject of an E:60 feature last year, “Silent Night Lights“, and caught the attention of many at the network. The producer, Martin Khodabakhshian, will be a part of the production crew for tonight’s matchup (see sidebar).

“When I first heard Khodabakhshian speak about his experience at this school when he and the E:60 team put together the ‘Silent Night Lights’ features, I was taken with how it struck him,” Vassallo said. “We asked him to be part of the coverage and conduct the interviews with the kids for our sound bites as he still knows and maintains contact with the school. I think this is a reason most of us love working at ESPN — to help capture these kinds of moments, games, and athletes that otherwise go with their story untold.”

(L-R) Director Tim Sutton, play-by-play commentator Kevin Brown, analyst Craig Haubert and sideline reporter Quint Kessenich interview CSD coach Warren Keller. (Chris Damiani/ESPN)
(L-R) Director Tim Sutton, play-by-play commentator Kevin Brown, analyst Craig Haubert and sideline reporter Quint Kessenich interview CSD coach Warren Keller. (Chris Damiani/ESPN)

Chris Damiani, who will be producing the game Thursday, said it’s important to raise the bar for this game.

“I have been working on and thinking of ideas for this game since the schedule came out in August,” Damiani said. “We have added a couple of cameras to our normal complement to capture how CSD communicates on and off the field. We will have a camera dedicated to the CSD sideline to show the team signing with one another.”

At the end of the day, this is beyond just a game on the gridiron.

“If the love of the game is in the center,” Vassallo said, “then that is all that matters.”

“This game is important to a lot of people, especially the deaf community,” Damiani said. “I want this game to be something that everyone is proud of. Our crew has an opportunity to be great and do something great.”

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