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How one NCAA basketball team plays the game using sign language

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

It's basketball season, March Madness time. Member station WVTF's Sandy Hausman attended one NCAA game and sent back this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: This game between women from Gallaudet University in D.C. and Penn State Abington sounds pretty much like other college matches. Fans cheer. The ball dribbles. The buzzer blares. And shoes squeak across the court. But one coach never shouts instructions to players, and they never speak to each other.

STEPHANIE STEVENS: On and off the court, in and out of the classroom, we use American Sign Language.

HAUSMAN: Stephanie Stevens coaches for Gallaudet, the only college in the country designed for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Her players, known as the Bison, use their hands, fingers and facial expressions to convey their message. To get their attention, Stevens might wave her arms or stomp her feet.

STEVENS: And they feel that vibration. They automatically look to the bench.

HAUSMAN: Stevens also relies on Camryn Lexow, the sole hearing player on the team. She's getting a master's degree in counseling members of the deaf community.

CAMRYN LEXOW: I know that I will never fully understand the experiences of a deaf person because I am hearing, but by going to Gallaudet, I'm joining their team. I'm joining their culture, and that is something I was really excited about.

HAUSMAN: She studied American Sign Language as an undergrad and uses it now to help others on her team.

LEXOW: There are times that the ref will, you know, call foul, and some of my teammates won't know what happened. So I'll explain it to them in sign.

HAUSMAN: The hands they use to communicate also make shots, grab rebounds and, of course, high-five. In her very first game, Lexow discovered the joy of victory need not be expressed aloud.

LEXOW: So actually, I have the headline here - game-winning shot in final seconds as Gallaudet University wins season opener for the first time in 11 years. But I remember after winning the game, everyone running to the sideline and running to each other and hugging and jumping up and down. It was such a great experience and great moment.

HAUSMAN: And while many of their fans are deaf, that doesn't stop them from cheering. Sam Atkinson is the school's associate athletic director.

SAM ATKINSON: Bison nation - they are loud as any other college program. I think sometimes they can be even louder because they don't know how loud they are.

HAUSMAN: Despite the extra challenges they face, the women's team has played well, ending the season in second place in their conference. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman.

(SOUNDBITE OF KURTIS BLOW SONG, "BASKETBALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.
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