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The U.S. Women’s Deaf Soccer Team played a historic game last weekend

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The U.S. Women's National Team has been dominant on the global soccer stage for a long time. It has won World Cups and Olympic gold medals. But another U.S. squad is just as successful and virtually unknown. The U.S. women's deaf soccer team has not lost a match since it started playing in 2005. Over the weekend, the squad played a historic match against Australia. Colorado Public Radio's Tony Gorman was there.

(CHEERING)

TONY GORMAN, BYLINE: It was a small but loud crowd outside Denver that turned out to watch the first ever U.S. women's deaf soccer match played in the U.S.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Today marks a landmark day between U.S. Soccer and its extended national teams as world powerhouse U.S. Women's Deaf National Team put their 37-0-1 record on the line for the first time on American soil.

GORMAN: The team has won four Deaflympic gold medals and three World Deaf Football Championships. So how is deaf soccer played?

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

GORMAN: It looks like typical soccer, but each player must have a hearing loss of 55 decibels in their better hearing ear. All hearing devices must be removed prior to each match. The referee still blows a whistle, but also carries a flag to visually start and stop play. Colorado native Mia White felt strange returning to her home state to play for the team. Through an interpreter, the defender says it's still amazing.

MIA WHITE: (Through interpreter) I grew up here. I remember this field when I was a child. So it's odd, but it's great. I'm really humbled to be back.

GORMAN: The squad is coached by Amy Griffin. She played for the U.S. Women's National Team and won a Women's World Cup title in 1991. She says coaching this team is an ongoing learning experience.

AMY GRIFFIN: Not at all fluent, but the players make me feel appreciated for trying. And I get better. Every camp, I get better. And hopefully, I'll continue to improve.

GORMAN: Both men's and women's deaf teams play for the U.S. Soccer Federation's extended national teams. These include athletes who are visually impaired with cerebral palsy or in wheelchairs. The team doesn't play in the Paralympics because there are no classifications for deafness. While the match against Australia was played in a mostly empty stadium, it didn't matter to a group of hard-of-hearing spectators who celebrated each U.S. goal by raising their hands.

(CHEERING)

GORMAN: Ten-year-old Gia McCarthy, who was born deaf and speaks through an adult interpreter, is more excited to learn more about the sport now.

GIA MCCARTHY: (Through interpreter) So I play on other sports teams, and so I learned about them. And I want to learn how to play defense and run better, and so I'm here to watch them.

GORMAN: She saw a clinic. The U.S. defeated Australia 11-0. Emily Spreeman set an American single-game scoring record in an 11-on-11 international match with six goals. That's for men and women with or without hearing.

EMILY SPREEMAN: I just hope that this inspires a future generation of deaf girls and boys everywhere.

GORMAN: For now, the team is focused on next year, where the Deaflympics will be held in Tokyo, and the U.S. is aiming to win a fifth gold medal.

For NPR News, I'm Tony Gorman in Denver. 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.

Tony Gorman
Tony Gorman comes to Delaware Public Media from WABE in Atlanta.
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