Madison Elementary School basketball player uses interpreter, hearing aids to help in game
The game is tight and only seconds remain. While Tibbs’ teammates gather around Coach Barry Goldenberg and listen to him talk strategy, Javien looks not at Goldenberg, but looks instead at Debbie Parsons standing nearby.
Parsons is not an assistant coach. Parsons is Tibbs’ interpreter.
Tibbs is a 12-year-old fifth grader at Madison and is severely hearing impaired, according to his father, Mike Tibbs. Mike was an all-state basketball player at Parkersburg and saw playing time in Morgantown as a walk-on with West Virginia University.
Parsons has been with Tibbs since kindergarten. Mike said advances in hearing aid technology has allowed Javien to hear enough to distinguish his name on the court and hear the whistle blow. Mike said Javien also is improving his ability to read lips.
“The hearing aids are just part of the game,” Javien signs to Parsons after Wednesday’s game.
This time, it’s a loss to Gihon Elementary and Madison’s second loss of the season. “I’m very comfortable with the hearing aids. They’ve just become a part of me.”
Javien wears the hearing aids except “when I sleep, shower, swim,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll turn them off but not often.”
“His hearing has not deterred the child he has grown into,” said Parsons. “It hasn’t stopped him from living life. Javien has always has a smile on his face. It doesn’t matter the situation, Javien is smiling.”
Against Blennerhassett, Javien is still smiling, but Madison is down 13 points, 25-12, at the start of the fourth period.
Javien watches Parsons as she signs the strategy. Her hands and fingers moving quickly with Javien understanding each flash of the hand. Understandably Javien and his teammates want to win. Madison’s huddle breaks and Javien walks onto the court.
It’s just about 10 yards down the court where Javien’s brother, Tayjuan, is seated in the Blennerhassett huddle. Yes, brothers are opposing each other in the game. They have rebounded against each other and guarded each other. After the game, they will hug each other and visit grandparents and family.
“He doesn’t let the hearing impairment slow him down,” said Mike. “Javien knows the game, he sees the court. He knows the game without having to hear the sounds.” It’s a statement echoed by his Madison coach, Barry Goldenberg. “He understands basketball go good,” Goldenberg said. “He averages about eight points a game and is the second leading scorer on the team. When you can score eight a game and the game is only 20 minutes long, you’re doing a pretty good job.”
Javien usually finds himself playing point guard or a wing. He strength is with his left hand, as Mike was, but what some may consider a weakness with his hearing has actually brought the team into being a team according to Goldenberg.
“They treat him no differently than anyone else,” Goldenberg said. “He’s just Javien and the players can communicate with each other just by a look.”
Goldenberg adds the players can communicate with Javien by a wave of a hand, pointing with a finger, a tilt of a head when the crowd gets loud inside a small gymnasium as most elementary school gymnasiums are. “We’re good as long as he looks to myself or the interpreter for instructions. But he is a fantastic kid. He’s always smiling. The kid eats basketball. I’ll miss him next year.”
“He could play the game in silence but he doesn’t,” Mike continued. “Although he can, if he wants, hit a button on the hearing aid and he’s tuned everyone out.”
Javien is in his third year of playing basketball at Madison. He signs he started dribbling at four years of age. Mike is his Panthers’ travel team coach. Travel team is the one time Javien and Tayjuan are teammates. But not now. Mike says travel team practice a day or two after the season ends. There’s a tournament in Summersville “in late March or early April,” said Mike. “The Panthers are in it, so we are there.”
Javien is a year, eight days older than Tayjuan, but Mike said Javien was retained in the third grade to better develop his communication abilities. Both are in the fifth grade. Mike says after Wednesday’s loss to Gihon, Madison’s second loss against seven wins, the boys will be teammates next school year as Javien will transfer to Blennerhassett. Mike said both boys are approximately four-feet, four inches tall. Javien says he can beat dad and brother in basketball, pointing to himself with a huge grin when signed the question.
His favorite team is the Golden State Warriors and naturally Stef Curry is his favorite player.
Robin Lyons is the deaf and hard of hearing instructor at Madison. She has been with Javien since he was three. “I’ve been working with him for an 90 minutes a day for a long time,” she said. “He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever worked with.”
Lyons stated she works with Javien on reading, language arts and spelling. “I don’t teach sign language. I teach subjects. Everything is done in the classroom sitting.” Parsons stands throughout classroom time at the front of the room, near a white board.
“He’s not going to be hearing everything which is said,” said Lyons. “For Javien, he has to hear a lot with his eyes.”
Lyons said an FM system is used with a microphone and “sounds go into his ears but he has Debbie with him at all times.”
Shelly Wood is Javien’s fifth grade instructor at Madison Elementary. She wears a microphone, like Lyons, as she speaks to the class. The system works well with Javien as long as the teachers remember to have the microphone turned off at the proper times.
“The sound can travel through walls,” said Wood. “So if we have it turned on when it should be turned off, such during an individual instruction time with another student, he hears all of it.
Javien has progressed well with subjects such as reading, according to Wood. “He goes to a guided reading group which is being taught by a Title 1 reading instructor. He won the Young Author’s Award for our classroom. He was the fourth in the class to get through his multiplication tables.”
Wood said sometimes seeing Javien not looking at her when she teaches was a bit of a problem — for her. “I’m a teacher and in a classroom I’m used to having all the students looking at me,” she said. “But Javien had to be looking at Debbie in order to understand what I was teaching. I would see him looking at her and think for that instant ‘he’s not paying attention.’ Then it would hit me ‘yes, he is. He has to watch Debbie,’ and I would go on.”
Parsons has a few minutes of free time, which she usually doesn’t have a Madison, before the game as the team goes through its warmup before the fifth quarter game, which is elementary school’s answer to a junior varsity game. She said the two had to come up with a new design for language to understand what Goldenberg was talking about during timeouts.
“Once we did that, then I made a book for us both to study so we could understand each other in basketball terms,” Parsons remarked. “It really helps that he has played so much basketball.”
Their morning begins together as soon as Javien walks into the gymnasium where Parsons has morning duty. “I’ve been here for 20 years,” she said. “I’ve interpreted for track teams but this is the first time I’ve had someone for basketball.”
Parsons said Javien’s best subject is math. Lyons and Parsons both said Javien was a bright student. Lyons pointed to the Young Author’s Award as to how he is gaining abilities.
“Writing for a hard of hearing child is hard,” she said. “It’s very hard. Learning to read is hard also. Learning the English language is harder. Putting words in connecting English word order is difficult as their natural language is American Sign Language.”
So what happens when he doesn’t understand something in the classroom? “Well, he raises his hand like a normal student,” said Parsons. “He’ll sign me what he doesn’t understand and then I’ll repeat it to the teacher. She’ll answer and then I’ll sign the answer to Javien.
“On the floor, I’ll be at the end of the bench,” she continued, “and I’ll come to the huddle during a time out. In the classroom, I’m at the board but only a few feet from him. On the court, it’s all him.”