Deaf Bibb County grad first to land athletic scholarship

The odds of success were against Javarous Faulk.

He was diagnosed with significant hearing loss at age 3, but he chose to stay in regular classes all the way through high school, despite the difficulty.

At Union Elementary, Miller Middle and then Central High in Macon, Faulk had an interpreter translate in sign language while his teachers lectured. He also had someone to take class notes for him.

As a linebacker on the Central football field, he relied on hand signals from his coaches or taps from his teammates to communicate.

Faulk’s B average and athleticism not only kept him focused enough to graduate from high school in May. They also helped him break a barrier in the school system.

The 18-year-old is the first Bibb County deaf student to earn an athletic scholarship to college, school officials said.

It’s “a very rare and good story,” said Denise Bennett, coordinator of the Bibb County program that helps deaf students and those with partial hearing loss.

“Deaf children for the most part have to work harder to produce the same thing that a hearing child does,” said Merle Plain, who teaches Bibb students with hearing impairments. “Communication is obviously the biggest barrier.”

Socially, deaf and hearing-impaired students are often “basically separated” from their peers, another obstacle.

“Even though they have friends and get involved in functions, they still have communication barriers and wind up being reserved and quiet, not robust. They can’t talk to anybody,” said Plain, who has interpreted for Faulk since the fifth grade.

Last month, the state school board honored Faulk’s milestone with a Student of Excellence Award, and the Bibb County school system presented him with a Beacon of Light Award earlier this month for his accomplishments.

“It feels good I’m succeeding,” he said through an interpreter. “(School) was harder because other people can hear and other people didn’t have to have all the services I’ve had to have.”

Next week, he’ll load up a Saturn sport utility vehicle, with some of his former teachers following, to head to Raleigh, N.C., for Saint Augustine’s College, where he’ll play football this fall.

A coach there watching a recruiting film of another Central player happened to see Faulk, and he eventually offered No. 52 a full scholarship.

“I remember him being little and wearing a hearing aid,” said retired Bibb teacher Carole Weaver, who first met Faulk when he was in pre-kindergarten. “He was in the room adjacent to mine.”

Like a lot of his other former teachers, Weaver kept up with Faulk over the years, going to his games and even buying him a shaving kit for college at a party the teachers threw for him.

“We want to know how they do into adulthood,” said another of his teachers, Natalie Seals, who interpreted for Faulk in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. She said it was easy to get attached because of Faulk’s warm personality.

The Bibb County school system serves about 25 deaf or partially deaf students, and there are four teachers and two interpreters who work with them in various schools, Bennett said.

Students with the greatest hearing loss are recommended to attend the state’s school for the deaf, which now serves seven or eight of Bibb’s students.

Faulk has slight hearing in his right ear, but he identifies as deaf and mainly uses sign language to communicate. He can read lips and watches body language to help him interpret.

Faulk admits that given the obstacles growing up, he could easily have fallen victim to a life of gangs or crime. But he was driven by sports — and help from his teachers — to succeed along the way.

Someday the 6-foot-tall, 217 pounder may get a chance to play professional football. Or he could help coach other deaf children.

“Follow your dreams and don’t give up,” he signed. “Build your foundation for the future and work hard.”

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.