Copyright December 2002
In 1999, Wayne Coffey, a sportswriter for the New York Daily News, obtained permission to follow the Gallaudet University woman's basketball team for the 1999-2000 season. During this time he was allowed full access to the team at all times. He picked a good season for his project, for that year Gallaudet came close to winning a NACC Division III title under the stewardship of coach Kitty Baldridge, a 25 year veteran of coaching, who though hearing, is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults,) and thus fluent in ASL.
For those of you who are interested in basketball this is a nail bitingly good book . It is written by a master sportswriter, and is fascinating as it follows a unique team as it takes on the competition--all of whom are hearing--and comes close to winning it all, falling only in the final four.
If you don't like basketball however it is still a deeply interesting--and moving read. The author, who previous to taking on this assignment had had no exposure to Deafness or Deaf culture, has produced a compelling and unsparing account of not only a unique season and a unique team, but a revealing description of life at Gallaudet. Established in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln to educate the Deaf, it is the only University in the world devoted to educating the Deaf. Coffey adroitly creates an emotionally moving picture of both the University and its inhabitants as seen through the eyes of its students, president, professors, parents and staff. He skillfully weaves the basketball season into a total narrative, which by the time he is done, gives the reader insight not only into a remarkable team of young women, who just happen not to be able to hear, but also into Deaf culture and hearing loss, both historically and in modern times. On a purely informative level it is a fascinating read.
It is more than that though. As a person who once was able to hear and is now deaf, I found reading this book to be a highly emotional experience. Each of us in facing hearing loss have to make our own decisions, and so it is with Gallaudet students, even given the fact that the majority of them have never experienced what it means to hear. "I think I would be frustrated and distracted having noise in my head all the time," says one student, "I am better off not hearing at all." "You can't compare us to people who are sick...our identity is wrapped up in being Deaf..." says another.
Statements such as these turned my view of d/Deafness as a disability upside down and I found myself on new ground in a new land, which while I had known of its existence, I still found difficult to deal with. In the stress free world of easy communication--at Gallaudet, or at an ALDACon, these statements resonate with truth. In the midst of the hearing world I live in day to day, I found such thoughts difficult to cope with--even as I applauded how the students, and all of us who live with less than perfect hearing, dealt, day by day with a hearing world while living in a D/deaf one. I cried reading this book. I cried for what I have lost, and I cried for what I have gained. I cried for the sheer pluck and strength that it takes to be functional while coping with a never ending communication gap and not give up. It made me proud and sad, and filled me with admiration for the human spirit. And when a reporter asked one of the players how it felt to play despite being hearing impaired, and she replied, "I am not hearing impaired I am Deaf," I came darn near to standing up and cheering--arms raised in triumph.
If you have any interest at all in hearing loss or basketball you can do no better than to read this book. It may not make you cry, but it will leave you enriched, and with an appreciation of what it means to persevere and win despite what to hearing folks seems a devastating handicap. For it is when all is said and done, as I came to realize as I read, simply a different, but very rich and rewarding way of life.
I would love to hear from any of you who also have a book that has touched you, as this one did me. If you send me titles and brief descriptions of what your book means to you, I will include them in our next issue. I look forward to hearing from you. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BACK to Table of Contents