CEDAR RAPIDS – It was the best game of Jesse Vizzini’s football career, and his entire family was there to see it. Well, most of it.
Bob and Sharon Vizzini arrived at Chalmers Field in Dubuque late for Cedar Rapids Prairie’s playoff game at Dubuque Senior and missed the first two of Jesse’s three touchdowns.
“I texted Jesse’s teammate’s parents to keep us informed on scores and big plays involving Jesse,” Bob Vizzini said. “But while we were looking for a parking spot near the stadium, my daughter, Naomi, heard some cheering and told me surprisingly that they announced ‘Vizzini’ and believed he caught a pass for touchdown.”
“We were so happy for him and the team but very disappointed to not witness that play,” Bob Vizzini said. “Then as soon as we got out of our car and walked a few blocks toward the stadium, Naomi was shocked to hear ‘Vizzini’ again.”
This time, Jesse had intercepted a pass and run it all the way back.
“She jumped up, and we all started running to the stadium,” Bob Vizzini said.
Jesse added another touchdown late in the game on an interception that the entire family (Bob, Sharon, Naomi and her other brothers Jason, Joe and Jared) did get to see. It clinched a 30-28 victory.
The cheers from the Prairie players and crowd postgame were excitable and loud. Bob and Sharon Vizzini were excited, too, though they couldn’t hear the celebration.
The Fairfax couple are deaf, raising five children who can hear.
“It’s really not as different as many people would think. It’s just our normal,” Jesse Vizzini said. “Our parents have taught us sign language as we’ve grown older, and it’s a second language to us. It’s the aame as speaking. As soon as we learned how to talk, we’ve learned how to sign.”
Bob Vizzini is from Pittsburgh and lost his hearing in an automobile accident when he was 5. He met his wife (who was born hard of hearing and gradually became deaf) at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the world’s lone liberal arts college for deaf individuals.
Sharon Vizzini is from suburban Chicago and a graduate of Thornridge High School. Ironically, that’s where Prairie head coach Mike Morrissey was coaching before moving to Prairie two years ago.
The Vizzinis have lived all over the country, Canada, Phillipines and Hungary, as Bob and Sharon chose to do missionary work to share deaf culture and the use of American Sign Language. Bob Vizzini now teaches ASL at the University of Iowa.
Jesse, in fact, was born in Ontario. Jason Vizzini is a freshman football player at Wartburg College, Joe a freshman at Prairie and Jared a sixth-grader.
Naomi Vizzini is in the National Guard/Army and stationed in North Carolina.
“We taught our children sign language as infants, which was actually easier for them to use at an earlier age to communicate their needs because learning to speak takes longer,” said Bob Vizzini, who is mute.
He answered questions via e-mail. Sharon Vizzini can speak and read lips and is able to hold conversation.
“For the younger children, it became more challenging because they are inclined to focus their attention on their older speaking siblings,” Bob Vizzini said. “As our children began hanging out with friends who hear and talk without signing, we would have difficulty communicating with them and their parents. Our children usually try to interpret what is being said, but it can become burdensome for them. It creates a less spontaneous environment for us all around, but we do our best to make the most of it and get involved as we are able.”
Jesse Vizzini was asked if he believes his family is closer than most because of its unique dynamic.
“Now that you say that, us kids, I don’t think we fight as much as some other siblings do. That might be a reason,” he said. “But we have moved around our entire lives … so that could be a reason, too. We’ve met so many new people that we’ve gotten close as a family. We have to depend on each other. And it also helps that us kids all have gone through the same thing.”
Bob Vizzini enjoys sports and is a big fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he’s particularly proud of his football-playing sons. A junior, Jesse Vizzini was named this week to the Mississippi Valley Conference’s Valley Division second team as a defensive back.
He is fourth on the team in tackles and has run back all three of his interceptions this season. He also has two receiving touchdowns.
“He’s had a tremendous season,” Morrissey said. “He’s playing a little bit out of place. We started him at cornerback but moved him to safety. He’s not a big kid, but he’s got a lot of toughness to him.”
And his entire family behind him. Prairie shocked Iowa City West in a second-round game Monday night and tries to play giant killer again Friday night when it plays at Cedar Rapids Xavier.
Most of the Vizzinis will be there again, hoping they won’t miss any of Jesse’s touchdowns.
“This season has been a lot of fun,” Jesse said. “Pretty crazy. It’s hard to believe, and I don’t know if I’ve fully processed it. It’s not over, yet. We’ve still got a game to go and hopefully more, so I can’t really dwell on any (specific) game.”