Holyoke’s Brian Cristobal is making his game heard

  • Starting shooting guard Brian Cristobal, center, of Holyoke, watches interpreter Brandy Linden during a game Jan. 27 against Amherst Regional at Holyoke High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Holyoke coach Juan Maldonado talks to his team during a time out as Brandy Linden, a deaf interpreter, signs for Brian Cristobal, left, during a game against Amherst Regional, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020 at Holyoke High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brian Cristobal of Holyoke moves the ball against Amherst Regional on Jan. 27 at Holyoke High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brian Cristobal, right, of Holyoke, defends Isa Castro-McCauley, of Amherst Regional, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020 at Holyoke High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/14/2020 11:45:46 PM

HOLYOKE – Brian Cristobal has stood at the free-throw line late in games this season as opposing fans go wild in the stands, screaming and jumping, trying to distract him.

When the gym gets loud, he tunes everyone out. He reaches up to his ear and turns down the sound, sometimes turning it off, by adjusting his hearing aid.

Then he shoots in silence.

Cristobal is the starting shooting guard for the Holyoke High School boys basketball team and he was born deaf. In addition to wearing a hearing aid during games and practices, sign language interpreter Brandy Linden is on the bench to assist him in getting offensive play calls and defensive formations.

“Sometimes it’s tough because (my teammates) are able to hear from the other side (of the court) and I can’t,” Cristobal typed during an interview conducted through the Notes application on an iPhone. “For defense, I don’t really need to hear. I look at my man and I look back quickly so I can know when to switch.”

Before enrolling at the high school, Cristobal attended the Willie Ross School for the Deaf at Birchland Park Middle School in East Longmeadow. As an eighth grader playing for the school’s basketball team, he averaged over 30 points per game.

Now in his junior year at Holyoke, Cristobal is thriving as a perimeter shooter. He scored a season-high 24 points and made six 3-pointers in a win against South Hadley on Dec. 30.

“(Other teams) try to shut down Brian,” Holyoke coach Juan Maldonado said. “Just him being out there attracts a lot of attention from other teams because he’s a lock-down shooter. They have to give him attention. He creates a lot of easy shots for other guys.”

Cristobal initially tried playing baseball when he was younger but gave basketball a shot when he was 10 years old. He has loved it ever since.

“It makes me happy when I play. I have a passion for the game,” Cristobal typed. “It keeps me out of trouble and off the streets. I want to be able to inspire other deaf people to see that they can do anything, no matter what.”

Communication is vital during basketball games — calling out double teams, plays or defensive formations are all done, a lot of the time, by talking. The Purple Knights use hand signals for most of their plays. Cristobal only needs to give a quick glance toward the sideline to know the call, but when he doesn’t get it because there isn’t a stoppage in play or the game is moving quickly up and down the court, he still knows exactly where he needs to be.

“I think his knowledge of the game is at a high level,” Maldonado said. “He puts himself into positions where he can see things. When we’re watching game film, he could easily sit in the back of a dark room and watch, but he sits in the front and tries to read my lips and hear. He puts himself in positions to be successful. He wants to be successful and he wants the team to be successful.”

Cristobal reads lips and can hear some things through his hearing aid, but a few members of the team have started to learn American Sign Language in an effort to communicate more effectively.

William Cruz is a junior on the team and has known Cristobal since the fifth grade. He knows American Sign Language because he has a grandmother who is deaf. He and Cristobal see their ability to communicate with sign language on the court as an advantage.

“The other team doesn’t understand us,” Cruz said. “It’s confusing for them.”

Cristobal wants to play basketball in college someday. He knows that there are people that doubt him, but he doesn’t make excuses for himself.

“He wants to compete at the highest level,” Maldonado said. “He wants to be treated equally and knows that he is equal and he wants to help the team in any way possible. … He’s a great kid, a caring kid.”

When Cristobal talks on the court, he is quick with directions. When something is going wrong during a game, he’ll pull a teammate aside and work through it quickly. In practice, he motivates his teammates by talking and signing his trash talk.

Opposing teams have tried to talk trash to Cristobal and get into his head during games, but he’s never fazed.

He just tunes them out.

“Most people think or assume I can’t do anything because I can’t hear ... but that’s no difference” Cristobal typed. “Deaf people can do anything.”




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