Joel Plote has the look of a football defensive end.
At 6’5, he wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines at Wapsie Valley High School in Fairbank, Iowa. He earned Player of the Week honors in 1986 and helped lead it to a state title the same year as a senior.
But Joel – whose son Jack is a Mountain Pointe senior offensive lineman – stood out from the rest for another reason.
His nickname was the “Silent Stalker” – and not just because of the way he tracked down quarterbacks.
Joel was born deaf and didn’t learn sign language until he was 18.
“I’m grateful the coach gave me an opportunity to play,” Joel said through his wife, Joy, interpreted for him. “There wasn’t a lot for me to do there. But he trusted me.”
Joel never let his handicap stop him.
He worked on his family’s farm, lugging hay bales daily and tending to more than 250 cows, 200 pigs and other animals.
Living in the small town, he didn’t have resources available to learn sign language. His family did not have much money, but he was able to watch television when he could, fueling a love for football.
He became enamored by defensive ends and their ability to rush the quarterback. That’s what he wanted to do. And he didn’t let his deafness get in his way.
“I rely on my eyes,” Joel said. “When the ball moved, I moved. It was exciting. I thought I could make it.”
Joel now has shared that same dream with all five of his children. JR graduated in 2011 and went on to accept a football scholarship to South Dakota State. Cassie graduated from Mountain Pointe in 2013, where she played volleyball for the Pride.
Jack is hoping to secure his first division I offer this season. He has anchored a Pride offensive line that has played a major role in Mountain Pointe’s 2-2 start to the season.
Joel’s younger boys, Roman and Dane, are both involved in youth football and baseball. Joel coaches their teams.
While none of his children are deaf, they still don’t take anything for granted and are mindful of their father’s challenges.
“It makes me feel like I have to work harder than everybody else,” Jack said. “I have to go do something. I have to be competitive. Seeing the old highlights of my dad really brings out my competitiveness.”
In high school, Joel received attention from a few colleges, though many still had limited resources for the deaf community.
Still, coach Todd Simonsen at Upper Iowa University wanted to take a chance on Joel. He wrote him letters, came to see him play and invited him to visit the school.
When he did, the dean of the school, citing the lack of resources, told Joel they wouldn’t be able to enroll him because he was deaf.
Simonsen stepped down as a result.
“I said, ‘I guess this whole college thing wasn’t going to work out,’” Joel said. “I moved to Arizona with my brother after graduation and went to the different community colleges out here.
“I met the head coach at Mesa Community College – his name was Ken Sights… Ken could sign a little bit and he knew how to finger spell. That was important to me.”
Mesa Community College offered Joel a sign language interpreter who taught him how to sign. He played football for a year-and-a-half before moving on.
He began working for the United States Post Office in downtown Phoenix, where he remained for two decades before he was offered early retirement.
It was during that time he was called for jury duty and met Joy, who initially didn’t think of giving him a chance.
Now, they’ve been married 20 years.
“I thought it was weird,” Joy said, laughing. “I tried it out. I always said I wouldn’t date deaf people. But we dated and here we are. It worked out.”
Joel’s story resonates with Jack and his siblings.
It shows them that no matter what obstacles they face, there’s always a way to overcome them.
Jack said that when he’s on the field, he can hear Joel and Joy in the stands.
Joel will often get the Mountain Pointe crowd going by stomping his feet on the metal bleachers. Other parents love him for that.
Joel’s passion for his children and their sports drives him these days.
He lives for coaching and spending time with his sons who are still playing football.
And they cherish the opportunity to be watched and coached by him.
“I want my kids to do better than I did. I want them to have the opportunities I didn’t,” Joel said. “I show them that they don’t have to rely on their ears to be successful. I love sports and I love sharing that part of my life with them.”
Jack and his father have talked about their dream of him following in the footsteps of his older brother and becoming a Division I player – a feat his father wasn’t able to do because of a lack of resources.
Jack is aiming higher. One of his dream schools is Iowa State University. He still has family living nearby in Ames.
But overall, he is hopeful for any opportunity that comes his way.
He wants to do anything that’ll make his mom and “The Silent Stalker” proud.
"A Division I offer would be my way of thanking them for teaching me everything I know,” Jack said. “That would be the best thing. He never got the opportunity to do that. But if I can, I think it would make him really happy.”