Pallotti graduate AJ Markel’s mother, Diana, tricked him when he was a baby.
But it was for a good reason and that decision has made an educational impact 18 years later.
“My mother didn’t talk to me for two or three years,” Markel says of his early days as a child. “She was pretending to be deaf so I could learn the language.”
That language was American Sign Language (ASL), which Markel learned before he started speaking English. His mother is not deaf but his father Allen is, and she wanted her sons to be able to communicate well with his father.
As he got older Markel, who played several sports at Saint Vincent Pallotti in Laurel, saw hearing children who couldn’t communicate with their deaf parents since the children didn’t know ASL.
“It is sad. I have seen that,” said Markel, who is not deaf.
Now a freshman at Division III Gallaudet, the only university in the world for the deaf and hard of hearing, Markel has concluded his first season as a starter on the men’s soccer team.
His mother is an ASL staff interpreter at the school in northeast Washington and Markel is studying to do the same thing with a special program at Gallaudet.
His father, Allen, is a professor in the Sign Language department at Montgomery College.
Markel played in every game with 16 starts as a midfielder this fall for the Bison, who ended the season with a 1-0 loss at home Oct. 26 against crosstown rival Marymount University of Arlington, Virginia.
The head coach at Gallaudet in Washington, D.C. is Pedro Braz, who re-started the program four years ago. Braz is from Rhode Island and played in college at the University of New Hampshire and guided Gallaudet to a record of 6-11 this season.
“He has done well for a freshman,” Braz said of Markel. “He has played every game, he has started every game. He is playing against seniors who are four or five years older. I think AJ has a bright future here.”
Markel grew up in University Park, near the University of Maryland, and went to Northwestern High, in Hyattsville, as a freshman and played varsity soccer.
He attended DeMatha Catholic High as a sophomore and then transferred to Pallotti.
Steve Shurman, the veteran head coach for the Panthers, said Markel was a key addition to Pallotti.
“He is a hard-working kid, he is a good kid,” Shurman said. “He was a hard-nosed player. His senior year he was battling some injuries and stuff and didn’t finish the year. He had a huge playoff goal against Key. I don’t think he had the senior year he wanted to. I knew that he was good enough to play at Gallaudet. I am sure he is a nice addition to the program. His mom and dad are great people.”
Markel was also a kicker for the Pallotti football team and also took part in swimming and lacrosse.
While in high school he and his older brother, Elan, became social media stars and were hosts for music events in Chicago and New York.
When it came time to look for a college Markel followed in the footsteps of his brother, who attended DeMatha for two years and then graduated from Northwestern. Elan also learned ASL as a young age.
Elan Markel was part of the first recruiting class at Gallaudet and was a junior defender this season for the Bison.
He looked into playing at Montgomery College, a top junior college program, then learned that Braz was re-starting the program at Gallaudet after he had coached at Montgomery College.
The brothers were joined on the field this fall by teammate and sophomore midfielder/defender Alton Markel, their cousin, who spent most of his youth in Texas and went to high school at the Texas School for the Deaf. The Markel brothers played youth soccer as boys near Hyattsville.
“It is much better playing now. We are brothers, so we have this special bond,” Elan Markel said.
And so does the whole family, thanks in part to ASL.