Book on Gallaudet Inspirational Read

Article excerpt

Byline: Dick Heller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The word "inspiring" is frequently overused, but no other serves as well to describe Wayne Coffey's "Winning Sounds Like This" ($24, Crown Publishers, 239 pages, illus.).

The book deals with the players on the women's basketball team at the District's Gallaudet University during the 1999-2000 season, but this isn't a book about basketball. It's a book about trying, achieving and living with a condition most of us would consider a handicap but one that the athletes in question don't - deafness.

Coffey, a hearing sportswriter for New York's Daily News and a former high school basketball coach, sat on the bench, rode the buses and stayed in the dorms throughout the season to chronicle the Bison's season. It was a winning although disappointing season - Gallaudet's record was 14-11 - but that is almost incidental to his account.

The author describes each player's life in detail, before and after she arrived at the nation's only university for the deaf. Some have deaf parents, others don't, but all the women found a welcome haven in surroundings where not being able to hear or speak isn't considered a detriment.

"I asked each player if she wished she could hear," Coffey writes. "Not a single player expressed any interest in hearing. The closest I got to a dissenting opinion was from Nanette [Virnig], who said she'd like to try it for an afternoon, then go back to being deaf. ... The players on the team - indeed, nearly every deaf person I met at Gallaudet - do not see themselves as needing to be fixed."

One of the players, Shanada Johnson, described the biggest misconception the hearing world has of the deaf: "People don't think we can do anything. They're surprised that we can drive a car, go to college, travel around the country, or even take care of ourselves. ... We're not helpless. We just can't hear. Otherwise, we're no different than you."

Key figures in the book include team star Ronda Jo Miller, Gallaudet's first All-American; Touria Ouahid, who had to overcome the objections of her Muslim family to pursue basketball and education; and Kitty Baldridge, the hearing daughter of deaf parents who has coached Gallaudet's team for a quarter-century. …