Notables in Volleyball, Swimming, and Beyond
For many in the U.S., the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) means brackets, basketball, and American athletes. But it’s so much more.
Did you know at least 50 Canadians have participated in the last three NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships?
In 2023, Toronto’s Zach Edey was named the Big Ten Player of the Year and consensus National Player of the Year, and Kingston, Ontario’s Aaliyah Edwards was named 2023 AP and USBWA Third Team All-American. Canadians have truly become staples in the athletes-to-watch NCAA basketball category.
But the NCAA is also about many divisions in many sports — with notable athletes with hearing loss throughout.
Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., was the first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard of hearing in the world. It’s a member of NCAA Division III and competes in:
- Men’s baseball, basketball, cross country, football, soccer, swimming, and track and field
- Women’s basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball, and track and field
Dawn Birley, who would go on to win several national Canadian Taekwondo championships, played volleyball, basketball, and softball for Gallaudet. And current phenom Christina Elsbury, of Uniontown, Ohio, plays women’s softball and — yep — men’s baseball.
After being wooed by and committing to NCAA Division I Boise State, gymnast Talia Little developed sudden sensorineural hearing loss. With no clue how it happened and knowing she would have it for life, she got back to work. With the help of inspiring coaches, she climbed her way back to high-level gymnastic ability. She’s established herself as a force to be reckoned with despite her hearing loss and, now, tinnitus.
Olympic Gold medalist Jeff Float lost most of his hearing as an infant. He earned 10 gold medals and World Records in all 10 available events at the 1977 Deaflympics (then known as the World Games for the Deaf) in Bucharest, Romania. Float competed in swimming for the NCAA Division I school the University of Southern California in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
The University of West Florida, an NCAA Division II school, put together a Silent Set during a volleyball match against Valdosta State in September 2022. Until the UWF Argos reached eight points, it was asked that everyone — including the spectators — remain silent. The set was requested by UWF player Taylor Vaneekeren, who has worn hearing aids since second grade. She wanted to raise awareness of something that affects so many. Her coach was delighted to make it happen.
Bringing it full circle, what list of NCAA players with hearing loss would be complete without living legend Tamika Catchings? Born with hearing loss, Catchings was already awash in awards and recognition in high school as a WBCA All-American. During her storied tenure with the NCAA Division I Tennessee Lady Volunteers from 1997 to 2001, she earned the Naismith College Player of the Year award, the AP Player of the Year award, the USBWA Women’s National Player of the Year award, and the WBCA Player of the Year award. She would go on to have a 15-year professional career with the Indiana Fever that included a staggering number of awards and recognitions.