Follow the signs: CHS students use ASL beyond classroom in sports


Veronica Teeter

Senior Taylor Gallagher signed to the girls on the deaf cheer team that she coaches to smile. Gallagher said learning ASL at the school has helped her communicate with her team, although it is still not always easy.

Olivia Childress

Senior Taylor Gallagher saw herself in the cheerleaders as they flipped through the air. Having cheered for seven years, she knew what was required from an assistant coach. But as familiar as she was with the sport, there was one large difference between her past experiences with cheer and the one that laid ahead: all of the girls on this team were deaf.

Gallagher is the assistant coach for the Indiana School for the Deaf cheer team, one of the top high school deaf cheer teams in the country. She started coaching at Hollywood Allstars Cheer in Carmel last November and was asked if she could help with the School for the Deaf cheer team.

Before this offer, Gallagher was already interested in learning American Sign Language (ASL) and began the CHS class her junior year. She said her involvement with the language was how she started coaching the team, aside from allowing her to learn the language and apply it to her work as a coach. 

ASL teacher Joseph Wheeler  said via interpreter that knowing ASL is an important skill to have. He said he has seen many students use ASL beyond the classroom, like Gallagher does.

Wheeler said, “Students can communicate with me in restaurants or in the hallway outside of class. Why limit yourself with just a few hand gestures when you can learn a whole language with your hands?”

Robbie Ge

Similarly, Tera Botta, ASL student and senior, said she uses the language outside of the classroom.

“I don’t even think about it— words will come up and I’ll sign it as I speak. (It) helps you understand more with the words. It helps me learn a lot easier,” Botte said.

As comfortable as she was with signing, Gallagher said there were still communication barriers with the girls, although she said she has found ways to work around the hardships.

She said, “Sometimes I won’t know what I’m trying to say and I won’t know how to sign for [it when] coaching them how to stunt and tumble.

“We have to use a lot of visualization for that and have to figure out a way around stunting, like double tapping the foot to cradle to make things go through,” Gallagher said.

Wheeler said he agreed the language barrier can be difficult, as it can be mistranslated or misunderstood.

Differences aside, Gallagher said she approaches the team with the same knowledge and techniques as the other teams she coaches.

She said, “I have had every type of coach so I have learned the best way to work with an athlete. From having the hardest coaches in the world to the easiest coaches in the world, I have learned the good and the bad parts of what I want to do and what I don’t want to do.”

Gallagher said she is still immensely proud of the girls and this opportunity.

“These girls have pushed themselves so hard,” she said. “Last year they went to California for Deaf Nationals, it’s called the Clerc Classic. They went against the best deaf teams in the country but went out and they finished in fourth place. They push themselves as hard as they can.”