News & Media

McCaskey sophomore Akil Frederick wants to be first fully deaf player in NBA

02/06/2017 Lancaster Online By John Walk
Photograph by: Suzette Wenger - LPN Staff Photographer

The McCaskey junior varsity boys basketball team trailed late in the second half on a January weeknight inside the Manheim Township High School gymnasium. A McCaskey shot rimmed out, the rebound coming down in the hands of a Manheim Township player.

“Get back! Get back!” McCaskey JV coach Michael Mitchell yelled to his players.

McCaskey sophomore guard Akil Frederick quickly looked to the sidelines. But it wasn’t to hear what Mitchell was saying. He was looking at the woman, Meagan Falvo, standing on the McCaskey sidelines near Mitchell.

Falvo is not an assistant coach or even an official part of the team. But through a series of hand and arm movements, she was helping to coach Akil, who is deaf.

Falvo is his primary interpreter. Darlene Warren and Sarah Stoner also have worked with Akil.

Sixteen years ago, Akil was born deaf. Now 6 feet tall and still growing, Akil hasn’t let his lack of hearing stop him from pursuing his passions.

He’s played football since the seventh grade, seeing time at defensive end on the McCaskey JV team last fall.

“I love that I can tackle players,” he said.

He’s played basketball for even longer, sometimes trying to mimic what he’s seen from his favorite player.

“I only support one person, and that’s LeBron,” he said.

And while he has aspirations of playing pro basketball, he’d also like to give acting a try one day.

“Yeah, because I’m funny.”

Akil made these comments recently during an interview with LNP through Falvo, who works for the education services agency Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13. By law, School District of Lancaster is required to provide Akil with an interpreter in the classroom and on the sidelines at practices and games.

A big goal

Akil lives with his grandmother, Debbie Frederick, in Lancaster city. And although his three younger siblings live elsewhere, Akil is still close with them. He’s trying to be a good role model.

“I’m working on being more mature and working toward my goals, and I know I can do everything by myself,” Akil said. “I just have to pay attention to the interpreter, especially for schoolwork, and then I can get good grades.”

This is where Akil’s dream comes into play.

“I have a really big goal. OK? I really want to go to Michigan (to play college basketball). And I know we’re talking—”

Akil pauses, as if almost to point out he understands the boldness of his dream, then continues.

“I really want to be the first deaf player in the NBA. That’s my goal.”

Lance Allred became the first legally deaf player in the NBA when he suited up alongside Akil’s favorite Cleveland Cavaliers player on March 17, 2008. However, Allred has only an 80 percent hearing deficiency. So, technically, the door is still open for someone to become the first completely deaf player in the NBA.

The skill set is there for Akil. He is perceptively quick for his large frame. He has a good shot from the perimeter. He has the size to bang around in the post and tenacity to battle for rebounds and loose balls.

To help in Akil’s quest, Debbie Frederick went online a few months ago and found a nearby personal basketball trainer for Akil to work with to improve his game. Debbie Frederick had her backyard converted into a basketball court in 2006 when she noticed her grandson’s love for the sport at an early age.

But grandmother and grandson sometimes butt heads on Akil’s dream. Debbie Frederick isn’t so much concerned about her grandson playing big-time college basketball as she is about him getting an education.

“I tell him what God has got in store for him will happen,” Debbie Frederick said. “Whatever is meant for his life, God will get you to where he needs you to be.”

Akil’s parents divorced shortly after he was born. And while he still stays in touch with them, Akil has been raised by his grandmother for much of his life. Now 63 years old and retired, Debbie Frederick is the type of person who puts in the work but doesn’t want any attention drawn to it. The 1971 McCaskey grad would rather stay in the background and stick to talking about Akil and basketball.

“She’s been helping me since I was little,” Akil said. “I’ve had a lot of problems. But we’ve worked together through a lot.”

Among friends

By all accounts, Akil has made a good impression on his teammates.

“It’s always laughs and giggles when we’re around each other,” said McCaskey senior Ricky Cruz.

Ricky, a guard/forward who happens to be among the best boys basketball players in the Lancaster-Lebanon League this season, learned sign language growing up because his parents are deaf. He and Akil have been friends since childhood.

“He’s like my big brother,” Akil said.

Ricky is one of only two classmates who can speak to Akil through sign language; the other also happens to be deaf and is good friends with Akil.

“(Akil) is probably the coolest person I know,” Ricky said. “When you know sign language, it’s that extra ... people see you doing that, and people are like, ‘Do you know what he’s saying?’ ”

While Akil mostly pays attention to his interpreter on the sideline when in a game, some of his teammates have learned how to tell Akil what play the offense is running through sign language.

Plus, Akil is adept at lip-reading. And it helps that he has a personality that’s made it easy to bond with those in the hearing world who don’t speak sign language, like McCaskey senior Greg Nunez, a teammate in football and basketball.

“Even though he can’t speak back to me, I feel as though I understand what he’s saying,” Greg said. “Once you get to know him, he’s just that kind of kid.”

Greg recalled a time in football practice last fall. A tight end on the offense, Greg often lined up across Akil. He remembered one day when Akil gestured for Greg “to go all out.”

“I destroyed (Akil), and he got up smiling and laughing,” Greg said. “It just shows that he enjoys pushing others, and made me want to do more as a player.”

Just like Akil is striving to do more in the classroom and on the playing surface, not only for himself, but to set the example for his younger siblings.

“I love my whole family,” Akil said. “I want them all to look up to me.”

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