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June 23, 2004

Growth experience

From: San Diego Union Tribune - San Diego,CA,USA - Jun 23, 2004

When Amy Badami joined the U.S. women's national deaf team, she learned about more than soccer

By Ben Saxe

June 23, 2004

As recently as February, Santee resident Amy Badami considered herself shy if not withdrawn, although she was an honor-roll student at Santana High School.

But now, at age 14, the youngest member of the U.S. women's national deaf soccer team, playing with and against women twice her age, Badami has had no choice but to mature and adapt her game and her personality to the rigors of world-class competition. She and her team will be playing in the 20th Deaflympics this January in Melbourne, Australia.

"Naturally the younger players are going to be scrutinized more closely by the senior players," U.S. head coach John Sisterson said. "So far she has passed with flying colors."

Though the team has only been completely together twice, the journey thus far has allowed Badami to flourish in a 100 percent deaf environment she had never before experienced.

Badami – who is completely deaf without her hearing aids, but at conversational level with them – says she had very little instruction in elementary school devoted to her hearing inadequacy and has never been in a deaf-only class.

So, aside from her familiarity with the mainstream-only world, she was competing with older, stronger and faster athletes on the U.S. team.

"I was intimidated at first, but I learned to go with the flow, play with energy and remain calm. They talk to me a lot, but it's not like they go out of their way (to baby me). They just treat me like any other deaf person," said Badami, who decided after she became a part of the team that she needed to work on her signing skills.

Badami impressed Sisterson and his staff at the February tryout camp in Mission Viejo as a "very tenacious young lady," and when an opportunity arose for her to play in the field rather than in goal (her usual spot with her club team, the Hotspurs), Sisterson wanted another look, so she was invited to Rochester, N.Y., for the second camp, which took place at the beginning of May.

Badami started at right fullback against the Rochester Institute of Technology -- a Division III school that went 11-7 and 4-3 in the Empire 8 last season -- as the national team won 2-0.

"She trained very enthusiastically the rest of the weekend, and she competes very well. There was no hesitation to name her to the squad to go to Australia after seeing her a second time," said Sisterson.

The experience on the field has overflowed into the home as well.

"Before, she would never admit to being deaf . . . I can count the number of times she has complained about it on one hand. She has never played the 'deaf card,'" says Wendy Badami, Amy's mother.

Amy, who had never been to New York, was smitten with Rochester Institute of Technology, partially because of its large deaf population. She would like to someday go there to study pediatrics.

By the end of the Rochester trip, she had bonded with her teammates, many of whom play or played in college, including at Gallaudet in Washington, D.C., the renowned school for the deaf.

"She didn't really accept that she was deaf (when she first tried out)," goalie Lizzie Sorkin said. "But after meeting the team, she realized how much she was missing out on and how useful she was.

"At the second soccer camp, she was really beginning to open up and is comfortable joining us on outings for dinner or out on the town."

The camps included games against college teams and semiprofessional teams, all composed of hearing players. According to Badami, on the field the difference between mainstream soccer and deaf soccer is the awareness of the players.

"Hearing players are at an advantage because of their ability to hear other players calling for the ball," Badami said.

Sometimes Amy's biggest difficulty was understanding the coaches "because of their (British) accents," she said.

The Deaflympics are every four years. The 2009 games will be in Taiwan. By that time Amy will be 19 and graduated from high school, but still eligible for the team. And apparently wanted.

"She's a refreshing player, and the coaches are delighted to have her," Sisterson said. "We're hoping that she is going to be a key member of the U.S. national team for years to come."

 Ben Saxe is Union-Tribune news assistant.

U.S. Deaflympics team

Team members must have at least a 55 decibel loss in their better ear to be eligible. To put that in perspective, a whisper is about 20 decibels, normal conversation is 60 decibels, and an average Walkman at full volume is 100 decibels. This means that someone with a 100-decibel loss will start to hear something when it is as loud as the full-blast Walkman.

Because the team's members are spread throughout the country (11 states and the District of Columbia are represented), the team only gathers every couple of months, thus the team requires that its members play organized soccer year round.

The team was formed in 1999.

The United States Deaf Olympics Association expects its coaches are competent in American Sign Language and requires head coaches to take at least one college class in the subject.

Eugene Rubens-Alcais, a deaf Frenchman, organized the first International Silent Games (later to become the Deaflympics) in 1924. It is overseen by the CISS (Comite International des Sports des Sourds -- in French, the International Committee of Silent Sports).

At no times is a player allowed to be wearing hearing aids on the field. Also, the referee carries a flag, in addition to a whistle, to help get the attention of the players.

Donations can be made through or through mail to: USA Deaf Soccer Association, c/o Mr. Tyson Kanoya – secretary & fund-raising coordinator, 1630 Liggett Drive, Crestwood, MO, 63126

© Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.