Deaf Team America: The Rise of Gallaudet Besson University | college football


aAt first glance, it is not clear that almost everyone Gallaudet UniversityThe soccer team, the bison, is deaf or hard of hearing. In most respects, the game continues just as it did on a fall Saturday at any other small university in the United States. Players smash chests in motion after important plays. Cheerleaders try to excite the crowd within the time limit. A fan of the away team swears aloud to the gentle cheers of those around him.

However, certain differences emerge eventually. Five strokes from the unit’s resonant bass drum alert to Gallaudet’s squads (many of whom are busy with side discussions with coaches) to incoming kicks and kicks. Instead of using a headset, attacking hookup John Scarborough communicates with a coach standing far above the crowded stands via American Sign Language (ASL). Instead of someone singing the national anthem before kick-off, the cheerleading team performs it in ASL while standing in the center of the field.

Gallaudet Football
Dmitry Lofton motivates the team before the match at home.
Dmitry Lofton motivates the team before the match at home.

Gallaudet (pronounced GAL-eh-DET, as if “u” were silent) is the world’s only liberal arts university explicitly dedicated to the education of deaf and hard of hearing students. Founded during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Gallaudet is older than (American) football itself and, in fact, played an important role in the development of the sport. In 1894, concerned that other teams might interpret his ASL team’s play calls if they were signed in public, Gallaudet quarterback Paul Hubbard surrounded his teammates a few meters from the line of scrimmage to discuss strategy. Thus the crowd was born. (there Few competing claims For the origin of the assembly, but Gallaudet seems to have the strongest argument. Even famous University of Illinois coach Robert Zubke, who is sometimes credited as the inventor of the rally, admitted he got the idea from a deaf soccer team.)

Sports innovation is just a small part of Gallaudet’s legacy. The university has served as a hub for the deaf community in America for more than 150 years, intentionally fostering a community in which deafness is a foregone conclusion, not an exception. With this in mind, it is helpful to review some of the terms surrounding deafness.

Left: Gallaudet University alumni reconnect during the game.  Right: Coach Stephen Healey signs players off the field.
Left: Gallaudet University alumni reconnect during the game. Right: Coach Stephen Healey signs players off the field.

For example, even the use of “deaf” (with the lowercase “d”) before two sentences is a verb that may irritate some. Whether the ‘d’ will be utilized in ‘deaf’ remains an unresolved debate within the deaf/deaf community. In general, many people claim that the term “deaf” describes everyone with the auditory state of inability to hear, while “deaf” refers to the common culture. Rules shared by hard of hearing people, especially those for whom sign language is their first language. However, this subtle distinction is not universally observed.

The extent to which individuals are brought up around the Gallaudet deaf/deaf community varies. Scarborough, a line operator who would sign for his coach at the press box, grew up using American Sign Language and played high school football for the Texas School for the Deaf (he has fond memories of playing under the “Friday Night Lights” in front of the famous state team. The school’s football fan base high school). Instead, Florida-bred defensive linebacker Laron Thomas says, “I was the only deaf person in all of my regular schools my whole life… [coming to Gallaudet] It was such a massive change. Communicating with my coaches, colleagues, and athletic trainers – I had access to everything in ASL. That really made everything more comfortable for me here, and in the end, it became a second home.”

There is also a complex relationship between deafness and the concept of ‘disability’. On the other hand, deafness is legally considered a disability under the American Disability Act. Conversely, many members of the same community reject this label and instead view deafness as merely a physical trait, such as height or skin colour, which just happens to reinforce its subculture as expressed through ASL (grammatically distinct language). per se. True, not just a visual interpretation of English).

Gallaudet is the only liberal arts university in the world that is explicitly dedicated to the education of deaf and hard of hearing students.
Gallaudet is the only liberal arts university in the world that is explicitly dedicated to the education of deaf and hard of hearing students.

For those who are not fluent in American Sign Language, getting around in Gallaudet is really like walking around a country with a different language and culture. There’s even an off-campus Starbucks where business is done entirely in sign language. This impression comes complete with the (well-meaning but sincere) embarrassment you feel when you realize that you can’t even ask the simplest questions in your native language. And this, in many ways, is the point – on the Gallaudet campus, individuals who must learn to adapt to the standards of the deaf community listen, and not the other way around.

Many Gallaudet footballers are keen to stress that they do Not They consider themselves disabled. “When I’m on the field, I feel the same [as hearing people]”I don’t have a disability,” says offensive lineman Mitch Dolinar, who considers himself hard of hearing. I don’t… Count me as a disabled person.”

“We can do anything,” says linebacker Stefan Anderson. “People say ‘Deaf can’t drive, we can’t do that, we can’t do that’ and it’s like, ‘No, we really can.’” Anderson knows what he’s talking about – he was named the first-team all-around defense in his conference last season, eclipsing players from Multiple competing universities.

Deafness, like any other trait, has innate athletic benefits and costs. The lack of music during pre-match warm-ups seemed to throw the visiting teams out of their rhythm. “I think it’s Gallaudet’s advantage,” coach Chuck Goldstein says. “It’s as quiet as teams can be flat out. But for us, it’s just another day in training…I love it.” Although they can’t bring that silent intimidation to their pre-game warm-ups on the road, as a soccer team The only college foot for the deaf in America, however, Gallaudet sometimes draws such large audiences of deaf and hard of hearing out of matches that there are more bison fans in the United States. Standing supporters of the home team. In many ways, Gallaudet is a deaf American football team.

Match day in Gallaudet attracts athletes and fans alike.
Match day in Gallaudet attracts athletes and fans alike. Photo: Sarah Julichian/The Guardian

Some players believe the benefits of deafness are more than environmental, and extend to in-game moments. “I suspect I Linebacker Rodney Burford Jr. says:I You can talk about trash and you can hear me. When You are Talking about trash, I can’t hear you… [that means] I’m already in your head. “

The most obvious drawback for deaf players during a football match is the referee’s whistle. Gallaudet coaches meet with officials beforehand to confirm the need for visual or tactile cues to accompany any whistles, but referees sometimes forget to do so. This can lead to penalties.

Coach Goldstein recalls a game three years ago in which the referee failed to notify the hurried Gallaudet defender that the play was dead. Having indulged in trying to outpace the other team’s offensive line, the Gallaudet defender eventually ran off and tackled the other team’s quarterback well after the play ended, resulting in a personal penalty. “It was like … the fourth and the goal on the line,” Goldstein says. “Before the first half and [the referees] It ended up giving punishment and [the other team] We ended up scoring the next game… Then we lost that game with a field goal in the last second.”

Gallaudet practice
Top: Conditioning races during pre-season practice.  Below: Players prepare to detach from their group exercise to practice.
Top: Conditioning races during pre-season practice. Bottom left: Players prepare to detach from their group exercise to practice. Bottom right: Training is an important part of the week.

Despite this confusion, the bison is on the rise. He started last season promising with five wins in a row before ending with three losses. The players and coaches agree that the goal this year is to win the conference. To that end, the Bison stumbled out of the gate, losing in a blast to the University of Winsburg in the season opener.

They quickly returned to winning level in their second game, however, by defeating Greensboro College 31-14 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. “We went out swinging. That’s who we are, we have to hit you first before you hit us,” Burford said. “They started hitting us in the fourth quarter…[but] We already were. We let our backups play.”

In addition to the much-needed Bison win, the game against Greensboro featured several great plays. Thomas intercepted a pass in the red to crush a potential Greensboro comeback. Burford made a massive tackle and immediately got a large plastic necklace with a bottle of Pearl Milling Company’s liquor dangling as a medal (a visual pun on the opposing player after it had just been pie). In the most impressive gameplay of the game, hooker Dolnar threw a perfect touch pass in a trick game after disguising himself as a field goal holder.

Coach Healy
Top of the page: Coach Healey shares a strong relationship with his players.  Bottom: Brandon Washington long pass before scoring a touchdown for Gallaudet against Greensboro.
Top of the page: Coach Healey shares a strong relationship with his players. Bottom: Brandon Washington long pass before scoring a touchdown for Gallaudet against Greensboro.

“It feels like a lot has changed in one match,” added Anderson, who was sacked in time before the break. With neither Winsburg nor Greensboro playing in the same conference as Gallaudet, the team’s goal of winning the conference is still largely achievable.

The intrinsically short nature of college sports careers gives each team the quality of a slight last dance every season, and this year is no exception. This seems especially true for midfielders Anderson and Burford, who, in addition to their close cooperation on the field, have played together since high school.

“What can I tell you about Rodney?” Anderson asks. “He’s like a brother to me, he’s family… It’s going to be tough when we go our separate ways. We’ve been through a lot together.” Anderson is clearly impressed. “It can be emotionally intense for me.”

Graduation from Gallaudet comes with the additional hurdle of having to move from a society where deafness is the norm to one where many people are unfamiliar or unaware of deaf/deaf culture and ASL. However, there are actions people listening to can take to help make transitions like this easier for members of the deaf community (plus, of course, come out to support the bison if they’re playing near you).

Rodney Burford Jr. and Stefan Anderson sign each other off while Jacob Hartmann tries to get the latter's attention to coach Healy.
Rodney Burford Jr. and Stefan Anderson sign each other off while Jacob Hartmann tries to get the latter’s attention to coach Healy.

“Learn some sign language, it won’t hurt you,” Anderson says. “A few basic signs, just a greeting or Something … You will meet deaf people in your life, so be prepared – it will be worth it.”


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