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Sports and the Deaf:

Teacher for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Carson City School District, Nevada, USA


Sports and the Deaf

I recently attended a high school basketball game.  One of the team members on the other team was deaf.  I was very interested since this player was one of my former students; also, I had worked with the interpreter for several years a few years ago.  I was fascinated to see how these two worked together.  I also watched the coach and all team members adapt communication

The interpreter watched carefully, understood all the plays, and knew exactly where to be.  If there was a time out, she was either next to the coach, signing, or directly across from the deaf athlete, signing.  When the deaf student was playing, she positioned herself on side lines in his direct line of view and signed information the coach was giving. 

The student's eyes were always moving.  Not only did he have to watch the game, his teammates, his opponents, the person he was guarding, and all the other things basketball players must be aware of; but he also had to keep looking to the interpreter and the coach for additional information others could hear.  I could not see any excuses made for this team member.  He made baskets, got rebounds, guarded zone or opponents as called for, attended to time out instructions, communicated with his teammates on the floor, and his coach on the sidelines.  The team had developed some very subtle manual cues to assist not only in communication, but in "keeping secrets". 

He wants to go on to college and play sports.


Deaf have made important contributions to sports both in the past and the present. 

1.  Paul D. Hubbard, quarterback for Gallaudet University, 1892, 1893, 1894, and 1895, claims credit for the invention of the football huddle.  When Pauls deaf team at Gallaudet, a university for the deaf,  played against other deaf teams, Paul wanted to keep signals private so they began to "huddle" and sign.  (Reference Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America, Jack R. Gannon 1981.)

2.  William Ellsworth Hoy, "Dummy" Hoy, 1862-1961, was the first deaf player in major league baseball.  He may have started the use of hand signals that are still used today in the game of baseball throughout the world.  Here is a quote from

 "When he began his professional career in Oshkosh, all umpires' calls were shouted.  While at bat, Hoy had to ask his catcher if a ball or strike had been called.  The opposing pitcher took advantage of Hoy's distraction, quick-pitching him--sending out the next pitch before he was ready. ...  Around 1887, Hoy wrote out a request to the third-base coach, asking him to raise his left arm to indicate a ball, his right arm for a strike.  Hoy could follow the hand signals after each pitch, and be ready for the next.  And the umpires and other players found these signal so useful that they became standard practice--they-re still used everywhere.  Hoy adapted the"out" and "safe" signals from ASL." 

"Thus, the intricate system of baseball hand signals--the umpire's signals, manager's call signals to batters, and the outfielders' call signals now used in all levels of baseball and softball, can be traced to him."

3.  Curtis Pride, 1968, is a Major League Baseball outfielder who plays for the Los Angeles of Anaheim as of 2004.  He is 85% deaf, can speak, reads lips, and is fluent in sign language.  He started a foundation, Together With Pride, to help deaf and hard of hearing youth. (See and )

4.  Ryan Ketchner, 1982, is a left-handed pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization.  He is deaf, but he wears hearing aids in both ears to help him be aware of the presence of sound and vibrations.  Here is a quote from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Ketchner says his only disadvantage is that he isn't able to hear the communication that takes place on the infield--who is calling for the popup, who is covering on a bunt, etc.  And if the catcher wants to go to the mound to speak with Ketchner, he must take off his catcher's mask in order for the pitcher to be able to read his lips.  Ketchner is so adept at lip-reading that he was able to pick up the words of the coach in the opposing dugout during a high school game.

The World of Deaf Sports

  Maureen Vaughan Shea
July 1, 2013

 The World of Deaf Sports

                  Most Deaf people are born into hearing families, but the Deaf have been able to connect with other Deaf to share their unique culture.  One of these great connections is sports.  The natural progression for the Deaf to connect was through, church groups or Deaf schools which ultimately lead to sports clubs.  European Competition between these Deaf sports clubs arose because it was not that far to travel from one European country to another.  It was because of these Deaf sporting clubs that an idea was born. Two French Deaf men, Eugene Rubens-Alcais and Antoine Dresse created the first sports event for people with disabilities (les Jeux de Silence.)   In 1924 the International Silent Games were held in Paris, France.  This ultimately resulted in the establishment of The International Committee of Sports for the Deaf.  They had created a Deaf sporting event that resembled the Olympic Games. The strength of the Deaf culture lies in their sense of community and the things that they have in common.  It is only natural for them to have their own Olympics.  (Ammons, Donalda K., Dr.).

            In most sporting events there is always a referee or two.  In Deaf sporting events, whistles, buzzers or bells cannot be heard, making it necessary for visual communication to come into play.  For example, to signal the start of a race, a light might be used or a hand signal while colored flags might signal a foul or illegal play.  Baseball referees use hand signals today that were devised by the first Deaf baseball player in the Major Leagues. The signals for "ball" and "strike" were the inventions of William Hoy, who played baseball for 17 years. ("Deaf Is.. Sports.").    The first Deaf female referee in the history of the NCAA Division 1 is Marsha Wetzel, her hand signals are said to be, "very crisp and very clear".  (King, Kelley).   Danny Shepherd, who has been deaf from birth, is Great Britain's only deaf referee.  He was a rugby player in Australia before retiring from the sport, and is now an advocate for other Deaf to get involved with sports. ("You Must Be Deaf Ref!").  The list of different sports is endless and none is out of reach for the Deaf.

            In the Gaza strip there are Deaf football (soccer) teams with their own deaf referees.  These teams play against, each other and also against hearing teams.  There are 25,000 Deaf in Gaza and these sporting events are also a way to bring the hearing community and the Deaf community together. ("Football Match in Gaza").   The first T20 Deaf Cricket Cup is to be held in Pakistan next year.  There will be ten countries taking part in this Deaf event, with hopes of spreading across the globe. ("Pakistan to Host").  From the South African Deaf Golf Championship ("Golf -  WCDSF."), to Deaf ice hockey teams in Canada,

("")  the world is full of endless possibilities in Deaf sports.  On June 30th, 2013 the Flame Relay will begin in Paris, France where the first International Silent Games started.  The flame will be carried by cyclists to Sofia, Bulgaria, arriving at the opening ceremonies of the 22nd Summer Deaflympics on July 26, 2013. ("About the Flame Relay.").

Works Cited

"About the Flame Relay." Sofia 2013. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2013. <>.

Ammons, Donalda K., Dr. "Deaf Sports and Deaflympics." Deaf Sports and Deaflympics The International Olympic Committee. N.p., Sept. 2008. Web. 24 May 1013. <>.

"Deaf Is.. Sports." Welcome to Deaf Is... N.p., 2007. Web. 24 May 2013. <>.

"" N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2013. <>.

"Football Match in Gaza Becomes Unusual as Players, Referees Are Deaf - SPORTS -" N.p., 23 May 2013. Web. 02 July 2013. <>.

"Golf -  WCDSF." Western Cape Deaf Sports Federation. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2013. <>.

King, Kelley. "Who Is...Marsha Wetzel." SI Vault - Your Link to Sports History. N.p., 17 Feb. 2003. Web. 02 June 2013. <>.

"Pakistan to Host 1st World Twenty20 Deaf Cricket Cup." The Nation. N.p., 5 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 May 2013. <>.

"You Must Be Deaf Ref!" Rugby Refereenet. N.p., 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 May 2013. <>.




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