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Signs of opportunity: Deaf curling in the USA

By Carrie Benton, U.S. Curling News columnist

for the sound the curling stone makes as it trav- els over the pebbled ice. Some people may think that the “roaring” is in reference to the skip yell- ing instruction down the ice to his/her players. Tese sounds are unique to the sport of curling. Now imagine the game without the sounds just described. Tis is the game for our small, but dedicated and successful, contingent of deaf or hard of hearing curling athletes. I recently had dinner with three curling med-


alists, Deaflympians Herman Fuechtmann, Cal- vin Rausch, and Liz Matthews.Each medaled at the 2007 Deaflympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, as both the men’s and women’s teams earned silver medals for the United States. In addition, their long-time coach Joey Bata joined us, and I did some research on my own in preparation for this article. I was amazed at what I learned. I hope you will find it interesting too. Did you know that the International Olympic

Committee (IOC) sanctions just three interna- tional events? Te three events are the Olympics, the Paralympics, and the Deaflympics. Deaf- lympics (Summer Games) is second only to the Olympics as the longest running international sporting event in history! Organized deaf curling in the U.S. is some-

what new. Herman Fuechtmann could be consid- ered an innovator in the sport of curling in the U.S. having taken the initiative to find a sign lan- guage interpreter to accompany him to a USCA certification course so that he could become an instructor. Prior to picking up curling, Fuechtmann was

a Deaflympian having competed in the Summer Deaflympics on the USA Handball team, win- ning bronze in Copenhagen at the 1997 Games. Aſter a severe ankle injury, he was concerned his days of competition were over until his wife saw curling on TV during the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino. Te sport didn’t require run- ning and jumping, so it seemed to be a perfect fit for Herman to be able to compete despite his in-

ost of us take the sounds of curling for granted. Te “roaring game” as it has long been called, is known

Quick facts: In hosting the Deaflympics in 2007, Salt

Lake City became the first city to host all three IOC sanctioned events (the others be- ing the Paralympics and Olympics in 2002). Te deaf community contributed to the devel- opment of some of the traditional communi- cation methods that we see every day in sports such as inventing the football huddle and in- troducing the strikes sign in baseball!

jury. He and his wife joined the Dakota Curling Club in Burnsville, Minn., that winter. Later that year, Herman coordinated a deaf

curling clinic that was attended by Liz Matthews and Calvin Rausch. Both Calvin and Liz were athletes with families who were active in sports, so they both eagerly took to curling as a way to compete in local events and possibly internation- al events as well. Te clinic was presented by Lar- ry Farovitch, who would go on to skip the 2007 Deaflympic men’s curling team, which included Herman, Calvin, David Sicoli, and Mark Adams. Te women’s team in 2007 included Jodee Dike- Johnson, Valerie Fuechtmann, Liz Matthews, and Karen Officer. Our Deaflympic teams have included mem-

bers from Arizona, Texas, Illinois, California, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Tis highlights one of the challenges in growing deaf curling in the U.S. It is difficult to bring groups of individuals together to play in leagues or events as they are oſten scattered geographically. Tis is especially difficult for those who wish to play at a highly competitive international level. At the local level, clubs may not be aware that

they have deaf or hard of hearing curlers in their membership. As far as we know, the St. Paul Curling Club (SPCC) has the only all-deaf team in the country playing in the club’s competitive leagues. Sheila Longie from SPCC was the first coach

for the deaf curlers, working with them on skills and techniques such as delivery and sweeping. Joey Bata from SPCC and Four Seasons Curling Club stepped in to help the group develop their game and has been coaching the international

2015 USA Men’s Deaflympic Curling Team (l-r) Herman Fuechtmann, Calvin Rausch, John Knetzger, Steven Townshend, David Nathanson, and Event Coach Elizabeth Matthews.

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team since 2008. Te curlers are quick to recog- nize both Sheila and Joey as being an important part of their growth and success in curling lo- cally and in international competition. Tis pioneering group developed signs in

lieu of verbal commands for their deaf team- mates. Signing can be a benefit in a loud arena where hearing curlers’ verbal queues can become lost in the noise, however, it can be challenging when sweeping as the sweeper’s eye moves to his/ her skip rather than the line of the rock. It also means that the skip needs to call the shot very quickly while the team is still looking at him/her, so timing of signing calls can be tricky. Signing can also be an advantage when playing hearing curlers as the next move is not always apparent! Calvin, Herman, and Liz all agree that in ad-

dition to their desire to compete at the highest levels, they want to grow the sport of curling among the deaf community. One of their goals is to increase participation in the sport at the club level so that others can share the joy that they’ve found with the game. Herman is willing to travel to “Learn to Curl” events in which deaf athletes are participating.

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