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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 6 years ago

Deaf 9-year-old gets in the game

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Jacob Comatile got a lot out of his first year playing football, but so did his teammates and coaches. 

BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER

Jacob Comatile recently finished his first season of football. Like many players new to the game, some adjustments were necessary. Jacob just happened to have one none of his teammates had.

Jacob was born deaf and with a cleft palate.

After trying to join football for several years, Jacob’s father, Mark Comatile, reached out to the Ormond Beach Pride organization, in its second season of existence, and Jacob found his team.

For the first five practices, which were without helmets or pads, Jacob kept his “ear” on, and was able to pick up the basics.

He's supposed to wear two hearing aids, but his father said one of them is always broken. Jacob adapts.

“At first, I thought it was going to be difficult,” head coach Carl Bentley said. “But with his dad, with communicating and understanding each other, that was key. That helped out alot.”

Mark Comatile, who became an assistant coach, stood on the sidelines during games and signaled Jacob plays. He even taught the rest of the coaches enough to communicate.

After those first five practices, Jacob went without his hearing devices, because they couldn’t fit into his helmet safely. During games, when he went to the sideline, he’d take off his helmet and his father would hand him his aid.

“He’s good at reading lips,” Mark Comatile said of his son. “I mean, he’s been reading lips all of his life. He’ll tell you, ‘Slow down.’ And he’ll look at you.”

Bentley said Jacob picked up football faster than he expected. And soon it was the coaches who needed to adjust.

“He just grabbed on and ran with it,” Bentley said. “It was amazing to me. Jacob, he’s a good kid. And his dad was right there with him every step.”

Bentley said it got to the point that he and the other coaches would sometimes forget Jacob couldn’t hear, and they would yell to get his attention when his back was turned.

He started playing offense, but the decision was made to move him to defense, where he could simply read and react to what he saw.

For Mark Comatile, there's been a noticeable difference in his son after he started playing with the Pride. He’s more focused on school and applying himself to the work, he says, instead of simply doing it because he has to.

“Now you see him with little kids, with my little nieces and nephews and the kids around where we live, and he’s helping them with stuff,” Mark Comatile said. “He’s teaching them. ... (Football) gave him more structure.”

But Jacob isn’t the only one who’s benefiting.

“I see other kids with disabilities now (and) I'm more comfortable, and I approach them,” Bentley said, adding that the rest of the team quickly learned that Jacob was no different, as well.

“It gave me confidence to go up to a person with a disability and try and communicate with them," he said. "Before I might not have.”

For Jacob, playing football is just simple fun. He wanted to do it for the same reasons many kids his age want to play: It's what his friends were doing.

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