Born deaf, Overton's disability doesn't affect her passion
by Doug Gorman
When the pre-game music blares from the loudspeaker, or when Newnan Lady Cougar basketball coach Lavarrett Pearson yells instructions to his team, junior point guard Dakota Overton can’t hear any of it.
The Newnan High School student has lived in a silent world since birth and has to rely on educational interpreter Linda Lindsey to understand the instructions her coach is trying to convey to the team.
But deafness doesn’t define Over- ton, nor does it stop her from fulfilling her dream of earning a spot on the school’s varsity basketball team.
In fact, she is a two-sport athlete who also excelled last year in the Lady Cougars lacrosse program.
Overton divides her time between the junior varsity and varsity basketball teams, but once she steps on the floor, she thrives on playing good defense and shooting long-range jumpers.
Although her time has been limited with the varsity this season, she helped the Lady Cougars earn an easy win over Lithonia during the holidays, hitting a 3-pointer to the delight her teammates, who waved their hands
in a shaking motion — the sign for applause.
“I love to steal the ball and I like to shoot 3-pointers,” she said through her interpreter.
Although Overton can read lips, she does most of her communicating dur- ing games through the help of Lindsey, who is employed by Coweta County School system. The two have formed
a special bond, spending several hours a month together, both in class and at games and practices.
Since earning her place with the Lady Cougars, Overton’s biggest challenge hasn’t been dribbling or shoot- ing the basketball, it’s been finding ways to communicate with her team.
“I really had to improve my skills of communication a lot, communicating with the team was tough at first,” she said. “It’s easy to communicate now as we have gone on. At first, they thought I understood the lip reading a lot better than I did. I had to have them slow down because they talked so fast. Now, I can understand and lip read them during the game. If they mouth the play, I can see it and understand it.”
One way Overton and her teammates bridged the communication gap was to develop special signs for the different plays.
“Once they understood I can’t always read lips as well as they think, that made it easier,” Overton said.
Before stepping foot on the Newnan campus, the point guard honed her basketball skills as a member of Smokey Road Middle School’s program.
“It’s really where I learned to communicate with hearing players for the first time,” she said.
Overton didn’t just win over her Lady Cougar teammates with her basketball ability.
Her charismatic personality and infectious smile helped her make friends both on and off the court.
Now, she fits right in, laughing and interacting with her teammates, who head into next week’s Region 3-AAAAAAA tournament at Tri- Cities with hopes of advancing to the state tournament.
In order for Overton and her basketball teammates to extend the sea- son, they will have to beat rival East Coweta Tuesday in the region tournament opener.
It will be the third meeting of the year between the two teams.
Newnan won the first meeting, but lost at home Friday night to the Lady Indians to set up another rematch.
“It’s been an up-and-down season for us,” Overton said. “We have won some big games. We have been work- ing hard to get better.”
Despite limited playing time, Over- ton isn’t just a deaf player who hap- pens to be on the team. She is a student-athlete who has the ability to play the game and contribute to the team.
“She can play,” said Pearson. “She is a good shooter and she keeps working to get better.”
Overton is the first deaf basketball player Pearson has coached, but he said it’s been a great experience.
“She is a hard worker,” Pearson said. “She loves the game of basketball. The girls get along with her well. They have learned sign language and I have learned sign language, too. She has been very inspiring. There were some challenges and adjustments at first, but it’s all great now. She has played with a lot these girls since middle school, so that helped.”
Overton’s goal of making the roster on her high school team first took shape in fourth grade, when she dis- covered she had a knack for putting the ball in the basket.
Her first experience was playing in the Upward basketball program at her church.
Overton has improved each year and is confident her best basketball in still in front of her.
She credits her success to her close relationship with her father, Darryl, who didn’t allow his daughter to make excuses or sit on the sidelines.
“My dad is a great person,” she said. “He helps me so much. He has encouraged me do whatever I have wanted to do. He has told me when I was wrong. He told me when I did the right thing, and how to play. He won’t let me miss my games. He supports me in basket- ball and lacrosse, and in my school work.”
The father and daughter enjoy going to games together, often cheering for their favorite college team — Georgia Tech.
“It is hard to put into words,” Overton said. “My dad has shown me there is a whole world out there.”
Darryl is trying to help his daughter find her place in world and get ready for college and life in the everyday work world once she completes her education.
“I have just tried to do as much as a can for her and be there for her,” he said. “I am
so proud of what she has been able to accomplish. She has not let her disability stop her.”
The two have also created lots of good memories, including a trip they made to Europe where they visited London, Paris and Normandy.
“It helped her once they started studying World War II in school,” he said. “It was a great time for us, too.”
In addition to her success in athletics, Overton excels in the classroom, and she especially enjoys her literature and social studies classes. She hopes to attend either Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., a school that specializes in college educations for deaf students, or Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Overton is mainstreamed into regular classes and works hard to make good grades.
She hopes to translate her academic and athletic talents into an athletic scholarship.
However, it might be in lacrosse, not in basketball.
“She has fallen in love with the sport,” her father said. “When she first started playing lacrosse, I wasn’t really sure about it. I didn’t know too much about it, but it’s been great. She gets a lot of play- ing time in lacrosse, and she is really good at it.”
Last summer, Overton attended a lacrosse camp at Clemson University, where a sign language interpreter was provided. The camp showed her she can hold her own with some of the best lacrosse players around.
She will have to quickly change gears into her lacrosse mode once basketball season ends in about a week because there won’t be too much down time for the 17-year-old.
But Overton doesn’t mind the hectic pace.
“I am looking forward to the lacrosse season,” she said. “There is a lot more running in lacrosse, but it helps me stay in shape.”