Oct 2018 La Crosse Tribune
The only apparent difference between Jaden Nesseth and any other player on the football field is eye contact. It’s important to everyone, but it’s at the top of the list for Holmen High School junior Jaden Nesseth as he impacts the game from his spot on the defensive line. Nesseth, who was born completely deaf, is watching lips — when possible — and concentrating harder on hand signals from teammates in case of any last-second changes at the line of scrimmage. Other players can rely on hearing the necessary adjustments. Nesseth can sometimes, but the hand signals are essential because he plays while wearing a cochlear implant. “I can hear the wind, the whistling, if it’s windy,” said Nesseth, whose fifth-seeded Vikings (6-3) open the WIAA Division 2 playoffs at fourth-seeded DeForest (7-2) at 7 p.m. Friday. “It’s a little harder when I’m outside because I’ll be so far away from the shouting of the play. “The hand signals are important.”
So, as it turns out, is the helmet and skull cap he wears under it. Securing those was a battle his mom, Mandy, has waged since he joined the varsity football team. Jaden requires a helmet that has space for the implant that fits over and behind his right ear and the skull cap to hold it in place when making tackles. The helmet was difficult to find; the skull cap was an issue with the WIAA.
“It was a lot of back and forth in trying to get them to understand that he needed this,” said Mandy, an educational assistant in the 4K wing of Viking Elementary School. “I had to have a letter written by the helmet company, and it took many, many months, but we got it passed.” The WIAA side of the argument was a concern that wearing the skull cap would void the warranty of the helmet, but Jaden was cleared to have what he needed, then cleared to play, when that was taken care of. “Equipment was one of the biggest things we faced, not his hearing,” Holmen coach Travis Kowalski said. “It wasn’t easy to find the right helmet and get that issue taken care of, but those were things he had to have taken care of to play.”
That wasn’t the first time Mandy went to bat for her son. Doctors wanted the family to wait much longer than it was prepared to in order for Jaden to get his first cochlear implant. The suggestion was to wait until he was 2 years old, but the family pressed, and Jaden had his implant at 13 months. “The sooner you can get the auditory nerve functioning and hearing sound, the better,” Mandy said. “With him being completely deaf, I had emailed (medical personnel in Madison) the day after we got home when he was diagnosed at four months. The research showed that the sooner we could do it, the better chance he would have to have normal speech and stuff like that, so we wanted to do it.”
He will have an implant for his left ear next month. Being on the field should be considered a victory in this scenario, but it’s much more than that. Jaden is effective with what he brings to the game plan and was in on a sack of Onalaska’s Austin Larson during last week’s 49-14 win that gave Holmen the outright MVC championship. “Defensively, communication isn’t as big of a deal,” Kowalski said. “He has also played offensive line, some centre, for us in the past. “He is such a hard worker for us. I’ve had him in classes, and he is a kid who likes to be pushed and not gone easy on.” That attitude, along with friends, were what got Jaden into football when he was young.
“It was third grade when my buddies asked me to play tackle football with them,” Jaden said. “I wasn’t sure because of my hearing. I didn’t want to mess up my hearing, but I’m glad I started playing football and here I am now.”
Mandy was the biggest fan of watching Jaden play when he was younger, but she adapted to the situation and wouldn’t miss the chance to watch him play now. “It fills my heart to watch him,” Mandy said. “To see him overcome all of this makes me so proud. There are so many things people have told him he couldn’t do, and he’s doing it all.”