Local football coach Devin DeHart refuses to let a hearing disability stop him from reaching out to young athletes.

HOUMA, La. — Local football coach Devin DeHart refuses to let a hearing disability stop him from reaching out to young athletes.

DeHart, a 24-year-old Houma native, was born deaf, but he played football as a kid and remains close to the sport as a first-year assistant coach with the East Houma Steelers junior-varsity team (9- to 10-year-olds) in the Terrebonne Parish Recreation league.

DeHart uses sign language to signal in plays and communicate with the other coaches and players.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m deaf,” DeHart said through the interpretation of a longtime family friend and certified interpreter for the deaf, Lisa Landry. “I can do what the hearing can do, and I recognize that children are very interested in having a deaf coach.”

Since joining the football team in June, DeHart said he has formed a special bond with the young athletes.

“I’m really happy about it. It’s my first year,” DeHart said. “I’m teaching the kids how to finger spell, and I’m teaching them how to sign the ABCs. They are learning it fast and they are getting used to me. Sometimes if they don’t understand me, I’ll get another coach to come and help.”

DeHart was encouraged to join the team by his cousin AJ Taylor, who has worked with the East Houma Steelers for the last three years. Taylor said most of his family knows sign language and is able to communicate easily with DeHart, who is a former football player and 2013 graduate from the Louisiana School for the Deaf in Baton Rouge.

“We hang out a lot and spend a lot of time together. I asked him if he wanted to come coach,” Taylor said. “We watch football games and go to Saints games together, so I know he loves football. He played football and everything, so this was a way for him to have a chance to get back into it.”

East Houma Steelers head coach Jayy Guidry supported the idea of bringing DeHart on board.

“I thought it was pretty interesting to have a coach that’s deaf,” Guidry said. “I feel like everyone should be equal. He shouldn’t be singled out by being deaf. It’s a bunch of guys out here helping these kids, and he just wants to help out like we do.”

DeHart said he loves making a difference.

“I very much appreciate all the support,” DeHart said. “They allow me to be involved. I appreciate that.”

DeHart works with the football team as its offensive coordinator. He has a wristband on his arm that has every play he designed with a certain number. He calls plays during practice or games by signaling in a certain number to the players without saying a word.

Taylor said the whole process has gone smoothly this season. The East Houma Steelers had a 4-4 record and finished second in both Holiday Bowl games this season.

“He’s my little cousin, but he’s a big inspiration to me and my whole family,” Taylor said. “This is his first year coaching, but it’s not going to be his last. He’s going to stay with me for as long as I’m a coach.”

East Houma Steelers football player Ma’Khi Gautreaux, who is DeHart’s nephew, said he was excited to learn that DeHart would be joining the team as an assistant coach. Gautreaux knows sign language and often helps DeHart communicate with other players on the team. DeHart has two other nephews — Oscar Caldara and Jayden Guidry — on the team.

Gautreaux said seeing his uncle overcome adversity has always motivated him to do his best in school or sports.

“He taught me to never give up,” Gautreaux said. “It makes me know that there’s no excuse for not doing anything. It just takes responsibility.”

Guidry said DeHart has also inspired all of the East Houma Steelers coaching staff.

“We’re all learning how to interact better with the kids,” Guidry said. “Devin brings us together more by making us understand each other. He’s always happy. He loves being out here, and he’s happy to be a part of the team. Everything he does is appreciated, and hopefully he stays with us.”

East Houma Steelers coach Buddy Halford, who has been with the team for 19 years, said it is the first time he could recall a deaf coach in TPR.

“We have a really good group of coaches with the Steelers. It’s the best since I’ve been coaching here,” Halford said. “We have one other coach [Taylor] that knows sign to communicate, and the rest of us want to learn because we expect he’ll [DeHart] be here for a while.”

Taylor said DeHart has always been very social despite being deaf.

“He enjoys being around people,” Taylor said. “He likes being in the conversation and everything. Just because he can’t hear, my whole family knows how to sign, so we all talk and sign at the same time. He always stays in the conversation.”

DeHart said being deaf has never stopped him from living out his dreams. When he is not coaching, he works as a carpenter with M&H Builders.

DeHart, who is the son of Tonya and Wayne DeHart of Houma, said he wants to inspire more deaf people to get involved with sports and other activities in the community.

“If you want to play football games in the future, I would like to be a coach to help your children,” DeHart said. “It just takes a lot of paying attention. Language should not stop you from learning anything. You see I’m deaf, but I can play. I focus on what I want to learn, and I’m successful at it.”

Landry said she has known DeHart since he was 5. She remembers interpreting sign language to him when he played football for TPR.

“I’m very proud of how far he has come,” Landry said. “He’s like my one of my own. He is a very big inspiration to so many in our community.”

Landry said she would like to reach out to anyone who is interested in learning sign language. She teaches a class every Sunday at Vision Christian Center in Bourg.

“I would really like to let the parents know if they have deaf or hard of hearing children, they can contact me and we’ll work with them,” Landry said. “Some people think it’s a private matter, but it’s not. It’s OK. Your children are normal. Just because they are deaf doesn’t mean they aren’t normal. They hear from their eyes and they speak from their hands. God made us all different.”

Chris Singleton is a reporter for The Houma (La.) Courier.