A key save in goal

Posted: May 04, 2014

The third quarter ended, and Washington boys' lacrosse coach Jack Creighton turned toward his bench in search of his starting goalie.

Robert Franklin sat there alone, with ice on one of his shins.

Creighton asked him to walk onto the field. The coach did not need Franklin to reenter the game.

"Need you to sign for me, please," Creighton said.

Franklin's replacement, sophomore Paul Thiergartner, is deaf. And the Eagles coach wanted to give him instructions before the fourth quarter began.

Franklin, a junior fluent in sign language, stood next to Creighton as he spoke to Thiergartner. The goalie kept his eyes on Franklin, who signed the instructions for him.

Stay on your post. Guard the crease. Don't be afraid to be the fourth defender.

Thiergartner gave a thumbs-up. The game continued.

Lacrosse relies heavily on oral communication. The goalie is usually the field's loudest player. But Washington, one of the Public League's top teams, has found a way to adapt.

"It feels like the team is bonding because of me being deaf," Thiergartner said through Franklin.

The goalies first met in elementary school at a CCD program. Franklin's sister and parents are deaf. His sister was friends with Thiergartner.

But the two never expected to play on the same team - especially since Thiergartner attends a different school. He goes to nearby Benjamin Rush, but plays at Washington because his school does not have a team.

Thiergartner said his two previous teams did not accept him. He said he was welcomed right away by Washington, with Franklin as his interpreter.

"This is a leadership role that Robert didn't even know he was going to have to take on," Creighton said. "He's done wonderful with it. He's been my right-hand man."

Many of Washington's players and their coach have started to learn sign language. One of the players, Adrian Toro, said he is almost fluent from just watching others.

Creighton said he learned to sign about 10 lacrosse phrases. The coach also types messages into his phone and passes it to Thiergartner. The goalie enters a response and returns the phone.

"If they don't learn sign language, I would be stuck," Thiergartner said. "It would be like being in jail. I would not be able to talk to anyone."

Thiergartner started playing lacrosse in grade school after his interpreter told him it was similar to hockey. He had played goalie in both hockey and soccer, so the position was a natural fit.

Thiergartner hopes to play lacrosse in college. He said he gets better by watching Franklin. Creighton said Thiergartner continues to improve.

Thiergartner said communicating on the field has been his stiffest challenge. He cannot tell his defenders when an opponent is open.

"Everyone else has to talk," Franklin said.

Midway through the fourth quarter - his coach's instructions still fresh in his mind - Thiergartner scooped up a bouncing shot and corralled the save.

"Good save, good save," the coach shouted.

The goalie could not hear Creighton's praise, but it was evident that the coach's instructions were understood.

"To see this going on, it really makes me proud," Creighton said.


mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen

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