Missouri School for the Deaf athletes compete across US

February 1, 2019 GMT

FULTON, Mo. (AP) — Communication is woven within the fabric of every single action in sports.

From knowing what plays to run, to in-game adjustments and even writing down stats — none of it is possible without communicating.

For most people, communication makes up the noise around them.

That isn’t the case at the Missouri School for the Deaf.

The Eagles’ seven-player basketball team trots out onto the court every game without being able to verbalize much to referees or the other team.

That doesn’t hold the student-athletes back, however, as their other senses more than make up for it.


On the court, that’s the identity MSD thrives on.

The school resides right off U.S. Route 54 in Fulton. Inside the building, students from all over the state flock to be around their peers with hearing loss.

That translates to the Eagles’ athletics. A majority of the same kids play sports year-round, bringing a unified familiarity to everything they do.

“When you’re working with the deaf, you’ve got to really be precise with what you are saying to them and give them good vibes,” said Stacy Pittmon, the school’s head football coach and assistant basketball coach, who has worked at MSD for 16 years. “A negative vibe gets negative attention from them, so you’ve got to give 100 percent, along with their 100 percent. You have to match their 100 percent.”

Part of matching the student’s effort is patience. To explain something to an athlete takes critical concentration. Pittmon told the Columbia Daily Tribune that the team will pause practice sometimes to make sure everyone understands what’s going on.

Those teaching moments come through hand signals, which are how MSD head basketball coach Kenneth Hartman calls out all of his plays, and by acting out what needs to happen.

It’s not too different from what all basketball teams have to go through in order to get better.

But it’s the way the Eagles get from start to finish that is unique.

MSD plays in an eight-team conference with schools from as far north as Minnesota and Wisconsin and as west as Oklahoma and New Mexico.

The team is also MSHSAA-affiliated and plays many other schools as well. The Eagles are members of Class 1 District 9 and will have a chance to make it to the state championships in Springfield in early March.


“With deaf schools, they’re not quite as fast as the hearing teams typically,” Hartman said, through an MSD interpreter. ... “They know what they’re doing and things like that. They know how to take advantage of being able to hear plays and things like that and so I have to make sure the kids are looking at me.”

MSD’s schedule has games against local competition such as Columbia Independent School and the Missouri Military Academy. The squad will also travel far for out-of-state tournaments.

No player in the program is from mid-Missouri, though Hartman attended MSD as a student himself before graduating from Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.

One of the newest MSD players is Jayden Riordan, who played for Jackson High School’s basketball team a year ago.

Now, he rarely comes off the floor for the Eagles. He likes that the game of basketball is universal — despite anyone’s makeup, they can play the game.

“I felt really all by myself whenever I was (at Jackson), even though I was playing on a team,” Riordan said through MSD’s interpreter. “Once here, I’m doing better with my teammates and interacting with them better. Whenever I was there, I joined the basketball team and everything and ... I only got to play a little bit.”

All of the Eagles stay in MSD’s dorms during the week and return home around the state over the weekend.

Riordan and his teammates alike enjoy being in an environment that’s substantial to their success.

Going home over the summer is a chance for the athletes to get better at football, basketball or track on their own time. They’ll keep in contact through social media with their teammates as well while away from mid-Missouri.

How they communicate doesn’t define them.

Being a team does.


Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com