In 2013, the football team went to the playoffs for the first time ever in their league history. The following spring a majority of the team graduated, leaving a young, talented crew to rebuild from the next year. In 2014 they went 2-7, and in 2015, 0-9. That’s not great after such a big accomplishment, especially for the guys who have a championship ring.
One thing Head Coach Chuck Goldstein knows about football is that it takes time to build greatness. “We have a young team and we can be great,” he says to everyone throughout the season, “but it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Head Coach Chuck Goldstein prepares to give a pre-game speech to his players before they compete against the number one team in the league, Husson University in Bangor, Maine on October 7, 2016.
Coach Healey, Shelby’s boss, feels the same way, “Coach Chuck and I, we always joke around, but in the end the same message comes out: we’re in the business of raising and developing young men,” he says coolly in a British accent while slouched back in his tiny office before practice one day. “Football is a way of teaching self-improvement and working collectively to a common goal. [We’re] teaching them hard work can lead to success.”
t’s clear on the field that the team is young. What they have in raw talent they lack in maturity as players drift off often, distracted by their teammates on the sidelines. But they’re being pushed constantly by their coaches, reminded to keep their focus on the game.
Throughout the season their work ethic improves, both on and off the field as the players become oriented to life as a Gallaudet student-athlete. “I think the football team helps them buy into the culture,” Healey says, “because they identify themselves as Gallaudet. They’re a student, they’re an athlete, they wear the colors and you know, they have the Bison Pride.”
That pride is important to the team as they’re used to dealing with the rest of campus’ disappointment, a pattern that started to repeat itself this season. They lost the first game 43-6, equal parts due to a young offense and a defense trying to find their footing. It was the only night game of the season, the stands full of spirited students fresh off of their summer vacations.
story 2 (bison)
By the second week of the season something happened. They won 30-0 against Earlham College. The team was ecstatic, and at the end of the game a few players ran out to throw a cooler of Gatorade over Coach Chuck, who was mid-conversation with the Earlham coaches. The crowds were erupting in cheers, exuberant to breaking a 15-game losing streak. The Bison have a tradition that hasn’t died in the two years since their last win: when they win, they dance.
Someone rolls their massive bass drum to the endzone, the cheerleaders rush over and they beat the drum and dance, fists in the air, everyone vocalizing and shouting in ecstasy. Shelby has one of Chuck’s young sons on his shoulders through all of this, and when the dance huddle breaks loudly asks one simple question, “Daddy... Shelby doesn’t have ears?”
Those who heard the child’s question start to laugh, including Shelby and Chuck. It’s a stunning moment for the Bison to have this win, a first for most members of the team due to their previous season’s losing streak. But this wasn’t the only win the Bison had this season. They ended up going 2-7, a feat that surprised most of the league.
“We’re a young team, and we actually have a kid who’s 17 years old. So we’re still playing with teenagers and not men, so it’s a growing process,” Shelby says the week before homecoming in October. “I look back on last year where, at this point in the season, pretty much everyone quit playing and there wasn’t high energy. And this year we’re not seeing it, no matter what the score is, we’re continuing to fight. I’m really proud. We have a lot to learn but we have a lot of good things that in two years should be really fun to watch.”
It’s this specific brand of optimism that is so unique to Shelby and is so beneficial to this team. He knows what it takes to be a top team, because he has experienced it for himself. His boss, Coach Healey, recognizes it as something that, because Shelby has overcome tremendous odds with his medical history, impacts the way he goes about his daily life now, “It’s almost like his life experiences taught him the lesson that good things are going to happen and bad things are going to happen, you know, we just have to manage it the best way we can.”
Shelby Bean reviews punt team protocol with freshman Jonathan McCrea, 18, during an evening practice at Gallaudet University on September 30, 2016.