California School for the Deaf-Fremont

After 37 years of broadcasting, there isn’t too much ESPN has never done, but Thursday night’s high school football broadcast is something new for the company. For the first time ever, they’ll broadcast a game featuring an all-deaf team. The California School for the Deaf-Fremont, which was featured in a E:60 piece called “Silent Night Lights” last year, will take on Woodland Christian at 8 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2 as part of the wider GEICO ESPN High School Football Showcase. As noted by Anna Negron in a ESPN Front Row piece, there will be a lot of unconventional elements to this broadcast:

“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.”

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.”

Here’s a trailer talking about CSD:

This is a very cool idea, and one that should bring a different experience to viewers. Watching a school like this in a feature is one thing, but it may be even more interesting to watch them throughout a whole game and see how their players and coaches communicate. It’s also impressive that ESPN is adding these extra cameras and features to really illustrate what the football experience is like for these kids. Even for those not normally too concerned with high school football, this may be worth checking out.

[ESPN Front Row]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.