As a teenager, Jarrod McEwen-Young avoided going to parties.
Profoundly deaf in both ears, Homeroi found the loud music too stressful for the man trying to communicate over the other voices.
Growing up as one of two deaf people in my hometown of Gilgandra in the Wiradjuri country of central west New South Wales was often lonely.
“Sometimes it was hard to fit in,” he said.
The now 23-year-old lost his hearing after contracting meningococcal meningitis as a baby.
He was raised and educated in the hearing world.
He had supportive parents and teachers, but it wasn’t until he was selected for the Australian Deaf basketball team that he felt he belonged.
“It was amazing to realize how many deaf people there are in the world, and how they fit together,” she said.
As a child, he underwent surgery to insert cochlear implants—removable devices that provide a sense of sound and help understand speech.
Implants opened the door to the world of hearing, but it was when she found other deaf and hard of hearing people that she truly felt at home.
“Being around my teammates, seeing them go out into the world and be confident [gave me confidence]” he said.
A young man who made the coaches proud
It was a support teacher at his school who introduced him to Australian Deaf Basketball.
McEwen-Young initially played in the under-21 competition, before being trialled for the Australian men’s team by the Goannas.
When Brent Reed, the coach known as Stretch, met him, he immediately saw that the young man had a knack for learning basketball and the potential to develop as a player.
“Just because of his basketball ability, we were always going to give him a shot,” he said.
“But this kid wants to train, wants to learn, wants to grow…you can’t say no to someone like that.”
When McEwen-Young started training with the Goannas, he was shy and, as he puts it, “not healthy at all.”
Its weight is 130 kg, that is, 40 kg more than its current weight.
“Every training camp, he’s come back tough and gritty,” Stretch said.
“The more he scored, the more he got out of the game and the more chances he got.”
Coaching the Goannas for eight years, Stretch, who can hear, has seen many players reach milestones off the court.
“We saw that young men got married, bought a house and had children.
“Guys start university, graduate from university, enroll and start their first jobs.”
Off the court, McEwen-Young is attending university and hopes to return to the country to work in sports science or physical therapy.
He credits the team for giving him the confidence to aim high in life.
“[Stretch] He coaches me on the court, but he always teaches me things outside of the game,” he said.
“When the coaches picked me, it gave me confidence that someone else had put their trust in me … and I wanted to repay them by being in the best possible shape for the next tournament.”
Dead Quiet Deaf Basketball
Players must have a hearing level of 55 decibels or higher to participate in Australian Deaf basketball teams.
With this level of hearing loss, a person can only hear someone talking, as most conversations take place at about 60 dB.
According to Stretch, aside from visual communication, the biggest difference between deaf and hearing basketball is silence.
“You go to a [hearing] game and everyone is yelling at each other,” he said.
“You go to our game and it’s quiet; Auslan sign to show support even when someone scores a basket [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 cochlear implants and other hearing aids to ensure the playing field is level, meaning no one can hear.
During the game, players must look for cues in International Sign Language from the coach and referee, watch for everyone’s next move, and watch for flashing lights when the whistle blows.
Instructions and strategy notes are written on the board and the athletes communicate using sign language.
Teammate Sam Cartledge said focusing on the court isn’t difficult because it’s a life skill deaf people are familiar with.
“That’s what we do in everyday life,” he said.
“If somebody’s talking, we have to figure out who’s talking and what they’re talking about, and then somebody else is talking and you have to go where they’re going.”
The Goannas are a “deaf family” as well as a team
Cartledge, who was born deaf and received a cochlear implant as a child, also experienced social isolation growing up.
“I had a hard time at lunchtime at school, I tended to withdraw, and I went to sports as a coping mechanism,” she said.
“Then when I found the Deaf basketball team, they knew they were the same as me, had the same experiences … it meant I could hang out with them and share those experiences.”
When ABC caught up with the Goannas, they were preparing to travel to the 2023 Deaf Basketball World Cup in Crete, Greece, where they will play against Venezuela, China and Greece.
Cartledge said the tournament is not only a sporting event, but also a celebration of the community.
“They’re my deaf family, they’re my best friends,” she said.
“I don’t know where life would be without this group of boys.”
McEwen-Young feels the same way.
“Joining the team changed my life,” he said.
“It’s opened a lot of doors for me, not only on the basketball court, but in life, and I’m very grateful that it happened. [overseas] the experience with these guys… it’s amazing.”
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