A few weeks ago, while playing in a self-refereed racquetball match, my friend and I had a moment where neither one of us could tell whether a shot was good.|
We faced each other and shrugged. Then, from up on the balcony, we heard it: whap-whap-whap. We looked up and realized a fellow player was slapping her hand on the wall of the court to get our attention. Once she had it, she gave us the thumbs-down gesture: The shot had gone short.
"What's 'Thank you' in sign language?" I asked. Melissa did the gesture and I copied it. Our friend on the observation balcony signed 'You're welcome,' and the game continued.
Overall, my abilities in American Sign Language are limited. And really, one of the few times I get to use ASL is in tournament play. The Maryland/Washington corridor is home to a good-sized deaf population, some of whom are members of the National Racquetball Association of the Deaf, or NRAD.
It's not all that unusual if you consider where we are — right outside the District of Columbia, home of Gallaudet University, one of the nation's premier higher education institutions for the deaf and hard of hearing. Go out the Interstate and you come to Maryland School for the Deaf's Frederick Campus. Closer in is the Maryland School for the Deaf's Columbia Campus. In fact, Columbia is an area known for its deaf "population cluster." Other areas with similar populations include New York (particularly around Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf), California (Fremont and Riverside), Colorado and Illinois, as well as Florida and Arizona, magnets for numerous deaf retirees.
If you're a club in one of these areas — or in any area with a deaf population — I really encourage outreach. Despite the language barrier, I have learned to communicate with my racquetball friends through notes, texts, Facebook and email. I'm sure there's a potential population of club members, league players, team members and more in your area, too. Believe me, the athletes and weekend warriors are out there.
From my NRAD friends, I’ve learned there are multiple clubs and organizations for deaf individuals with sports interests. These include the USA Deaf Soccer Association, USA Deaf Basketball, the US Deaf Golf Association, the National Softball Association of the Deaf and others.
The USA Deaf Sports Federation, which has been in existence since the 1940s, is the only national athletic association to coordinate the participation of American deaf and hard of hearing individuals in international competitions. The Federation is affiliated with the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, which offers the summer and winter Deaflympics. Sports at the Deaflympics include badminton, baseball, basketball, bowling, curling, cycling, golf, ice hockey, martial arts, orienteering, shooting, soccer, ski/snowboard, table tennis, team handball, tennis, track & field, triathlon, water polo, wrestling and volleyball (beach and indoor).
Like many niche organizations, deaf sports struggle with raising awareness and raising money. But the players love their sports, enjoy their workouts and like everyone else, want to have a good time. Opening your doors to this population can lead to all kinds of benefits for both sides.