Ausnew Home Care | After growing up Deaf in a hearing town, joining a basketball team opened up Jarrod's world

After growing up Deaf in a hearing town, joining a basketball team opened up Jarrod's world

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As a teenager, Jarrod McEwen-Young avoided going to parties.

Profoundly Deaf in both ears, the Gomeroi man found trying to have a conversation among all the other voices and loud music was too stressful.

As one of only two Deaf people in his hometown of Gilgandra, on Wiradjuri country in central western New South Wales, growing up was often a lonely experience.

"It was hard to fit in at times," he said.

The now 23-year-old lost his hearing after contracting meningococcal meningitis as a baby.

He was raised and educated in a hearing world.

Jarrod is wearing a dark green Australia jersey, looking pensive as he stands in a room full of exercise bikes.
Jarrod McEwen-Young found it hard to fit in when he was young.()

He had encouraging parents and supportive teachers, but it wasn't until he was picked for the Australian Deaf basketball team that he first felt he belonged among a group of people.

"It was a shock … realising how many Deaf people there are in the world and how they stick together," he said.

As a child he had surgery to insert cochlear implants — removable devices that provide a sense of sound and help to understand speech.

The implants open a door into the hearing world, but when he discovered other Deaf and hard of hearing people he truly felt at home.

"Being around my teammates, seeing how they went out into the world and could be themselves with confidence [gave me confidence]," he said.

The young man who made coaches proud

It was a support teacher at his school who introduced him to Deaf Basketball Australia.

Initially McEwen-Young played in the Under 21s competition, before trying out for the Australian men's side, the Goannas.

When coach Brent Reid, known as Stretch, met him he saw right away the young man had a knack for reading basketball, and potential to develop as a player.

"Just on basketball ability we were always going to give him a shot," he said.

"But here was this kid who wanted to be coached, who wanted to learn, who wanted to grow … you can't say no to that sort of person."

Brent and Jarrod hold basketballs and smile to the camera. Brent has his arm around Jarrod, a scoreboard is in the background.
Brent aka "Stretch" says he's very proud of Jarrod.()

When McEwen-Young started training with the Goannas he was shy and — as he puts it —"pretty unhealthy".

He weighed 130 kilograms, 40 more than his current weight.

"With each training camp he came back fitter and fitter," Stretch said.

"The more he put in the more he got out of the game and the more opportunities he got."

Having coached the Goannas for eight years, Stretch, who can hear, has seen many of the players hit major milestones off court too.

"We've seen guys get married, buy houses, have children," he said.

"Guys starting uni, graduating uni, going and getting their first jobs."

Jarrod is wearing a green "Australia" basketball jersey, and smiling while he holds a ball up close to the camera.
Jarrod credits the Goannas with giving him the self-belief to aim high in life.()

Off court McEwen-Young is studying at university and hopes to return to work on country in either sports science or physiotherapy.

He credits the team with giving him the self-belief to aim high in life.

"[Stretch] coaches me on court but he's always teaching me things off court as well," he said.

"When the coaches picked me that gave me some confidence that someone else had confidence in me … and I wanted to repay them by getting in the best shape possible for the next tournament."

The 'dead silent' game of Deaf basketball

To qualify for the Australian Deaf Basketball teams, players must have hearing loss of 55 decibels or more.

With this level of hearing loss a person might only just be able to pick up that someone is talking, because most conversations are held at about 60dB.

Two players in green Australia jerseys play one-on-one basketball on an indoor court.
During Deaf basketball, athletes communicate using sign language.()

Stretch said apart from having to communicate visually, the biggest difference between Deaf and hearing basketball was the quietness.

"You go to a [hearing] game and everyone is screaming at each other," he said.

"You go to our game and it's dead silent; even when someone scores a basket the Auslan sign for cheering is a [wave of the hands]."

For the most part the mechanics of Deaf basketball are similar to the hearing version.

Before hitting the court athletes remove their cochlear implants and other hearing aids to ensure the playing field is level — that is, no-one can hear.

Four men walk in a line under a basketball ring on an indoor court. They wear Australian training uniforms.
The Goannas will be playing in the 2023 World Deaf Basketball Championships next week.()

During the game, players need to be looking for signals from the coach and referee in international sign language, observing everyone's next move and watching for lights that flash when the whistle is blown.

Instructions and strategy notes are written on a whiteboard and athletes communicate using sign language.

Teammate Sam Cartledge said it wasn't overly tricky to have all eyes on the court because it was a life skill Deaf people were familiar with.

"It's what we do in everyday life," he said.

"If someone's talking, we need to work out who's talking and what they're talking about and then someone else speaks and you have to navigate to where they are."

Goannas a 'Deaf family' as well as a team

Born Deaf and receiving a cochlear implant as a toddler, Cartledge also experienced social isolation growing up.

"It was hard at lunchtime at school, I tended to withdraw, I would go and play sports as a coping mechanism," he said.

"Then when I found the Deaf basketball team just the fact they were the same as me, had the same experiences … it just meant I could socialise with them and share those experiences."

Sam Cartledge smiles with his arms crossed, he wears a t- shirt with Australia written on it.
Sam Cartledge says the Goannas have become his best friends.()

When the ABC met up with the Goannas they were preparing to head off to the 2023 World Deaf Basketball Championships on the Greek island of Crete, where they'll play against Venezuela, China and Greece.

Cartledge said the tournament was not just a sporting event, but also a celebration of community.

"They are my Deaf family, they're my best friends," he said.

"I don't know where life would be without this group of boys."

Jarrod wears a green and gold Australia singlet and smiles at the camera, while holding a basketball.
Jarrod McEwen-Young felt truly at home when he found Deaf basketball.()

McEwen-Young feels the same.

"Joining the team changed my life," he said.

"It's opened so many doors for me not just on the basketball court but off court as well in life and I'm pretty grateful to have this [overseas] experience with these guys… it's amazing."


Source: ABC

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