Eudora freshman overcomes challanges to play his sport
During a Monday evening practice, Nima Jafari darts around the gym among the other Eudora freshman basketball players, going about the business of screens, defenses and 3-point shots. As the movement is interrupted by a mistake, the head coach blows the whistle and begins to talk to his players about what it was that brought the drill to a standstill.
The players stop to listen intently to the words of the head coach, but Jafari doesn't look at the head coach, his eyes stray to the sideline where there is a voice he must see in order to understand.
It is a voice without words or sounds, but with motion. The motion of hands and fingers through the air reaches Jafari in a silent communique.
Jafari is hearing-impaired, a condition that has been with him since birth and on this day his interpreter stands away from the action relaying the coach's message to Jafari quietly in the midst of an otherwise noisy gym.
The freshman has not allowed a challenge such as hearing loss to impede his participation in a sport that he has been enamored with since the second grade. The sights and movements of stars like Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and of course Michael Jordan, have helped motivate him to go beyond watching to actively participating.
"I don't want people to see me as deaf," Jafari said through his interpreter. "I still communicate like everyone else."
However, basketball is a fast-paced game and at times requires a little extra communication for the freshman. And his teammates and coaches are able to help him out when the need arises.
"They can do sign language when the need arises," Jafari said. "It's much easier for me when there's someone that can sign. But I understand that it's a team and they help me out by giving me help like the numbers one, two, or three for plays."
As far as the season goes, Jafari has logged little playing time for the freshman team, but even a small amount of time has a different feel.
"It can be confusing sometimes," he said. "Sometimes the coaches think I am not paying attention, but sometimes I miss some things through the interpreter. If a coach wants to tell me something, the interpreter will wave their hands to get my attention."
Jafari, born in the United States, is the son of two Iranians who moved to the country some years ago.
Both of his parents have learned English throughout the years and according to Jafari are still learning. While living in the United States and coming from a household with another language may seem like an added barrier, for the freshman things are going just fine.
"It's not really that big of a barrier," Jafari said. "My parents are still learning English, but they've also learned sign so they act as my interpreters when we are out."
And being out has in the past consisted of returning to Jafari's country of heritage-Iran.
He visited while in the second grade and found that many of the kids in Iran don't share the love of basketball that he himself developed.
"Many of the kids don't play basketball," Jafari said. "They don't have a team in Iran, so it's not a real popular sport. A lot of the kids in Iran love soccer and that's all they play."
But returning to the United States and living in this country, despite the perceived disability, has given Jafari a real sense of what being an American is all about, in particular his goals as a basketball hopeful.
"I would like to play for the Kansas basketball team," he said. "And my dream would be to play for the NBA."