A National Title for Austin Deaf School
The UT Longhorns football team may have fallen short of its goals this season. But another local sports team has been named national champions.
This story doesn’t fit neatly into your typical sports cliché. The Texas School for the Deaf Lady Rangers are not lovable losers who had one moment that turned the season around. The team started the year ready to play hard and win, says junior Emilia Hamilton. (She and everyone else in this story are speaking through interpreters.)
“You could see that we were cooperating better and then we were winning and then we were continuing through the championships,” Hamilton said. “About midseason I knew. But then we kept progressing and I knew that we were going to be a good team.”
A team that plays just like any other, although junior Emma Crawford says you will see some differences between the Lady Rangers and a hearing team.
“We have a lot of eye contact — ‘good hit’ and ‘you killed it,’ that kind of thing,” Crawford said. “You can’t really yell it like you do on a hearing team. You have to be a lot louder a lot more spirit. You have to see that spirit come out.”
Coach R.J. Kaufman says the team has been building to a championship season for several years. He even started predicting a national title for the school a couple of years ago.
“Third or fourth grade, these kids have been working together,” Kaufman said. “So they knew each other. And I knew I had something special this year. And next year as well.”
This wasn’t an underdog team, but there actually was one moment worthy of a movie during this national title winning season. Deaf schools from across the country meet each year in a tournament called Spike Out. The Lady Rangers lost the first two games of the tournament, which left them with an uphill climb to win the title.
“That night I was sitting there thinking something’s going to have to change, something’s got to give,” Kaufman said. “And I decided to put in two players who had never played before. And I moved these players in and I felt that if the chemistry worked, it was going to make it or break it. And the Saturday morning came against the Maryland School for the Deaf, they had about 22 wins and 2 losses. And we beat them, and that was it. I knew at that point we were going all the way.”
Winning Spike Out, making it to the Texas state playoffs and winning its first-round match led the National Deaf Interscholastic Athletic Association to give its national title to the Lady Rangers and coach of the year honors to Kaufman. For Crawford, all this success will lead to more of the same next year.
“We can do it two years straight,” she said. “We can get another national title. And we want to go farther in the district playoffs this year.”
Nine of the 10 players on the team return next season. That includes Kylene Etkie, who was named 2012 Player of the Year by Deaf Digest Sports.