By John Lauritsen

MELROSE, Minn. (WCCO) — One of the top-ranked boys basketball teams in the state is learning a new language in order to help out a teammate.

Jimmy Orozco is a junior guard at Melrose, a team that’s 7-1 so far this winter.

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Orozco lost his ability to hear when he was just 5 years old.

“He fit in from Day 1,” coach Ryan Dusha said. “I think it’s because of the constant smile and attitude that he has.”

Dusha isn’t talking about his top scorer or top rebounder. He’s talking about a junior who showed up this year with a big smile on his face, despite almost no basketball experience.

But that was the least of their worries.

“We have to write down a lot of things for him,” Dusha said. “We have to use hand signals.”

Orozco is deaf. Spanish is his first language. Sign language is his second. English is his third.

So, actions on the court really do speak louder than words.

“It’s been a lot of thumbs up, and a lot of smiles,” said teammate Scottie Stone. “It’s been positive, definitely.”

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Stone is Melrose’s top player. And like his teammates, he’s taken a liking to Orozco. When they noticed he was biking to school and practice, they started taking turns giving him a ride.

“When he gets in the game, everyone’s on their feet … everybody’s jumping around like crazy men on the sidelines,” Stone said.

Orozco can’t hear any of it though. But the smile remains.

Some of the teachers pooled money together to buy him an iPad so he can show his coaches how to communicate with him.

When that’s not available, it’s your basic pen and paper.

And that’s how Orozco has carved out a role on this top-ranked team. He may never lead the team in scoring, but he’ll always lead them in smiling.

“It’s been fun to see that grade-schoolish type attitude,” Dusha said. “We all need to have that because we get lost in the final score too much, and we need to realize this is a game and it’s meant to be fun.”

Orozco attended Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault last year where he played a little basketball.

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He moved to Melrose to be closer to his family, and also wants to try out for football next year.

John Lauritsen