WASHINGTON — Suddenly, Gallaudet’s coach doesn’t have time to answer all of his emails. His team was invited to practice at the New York Giants facility. A Washington Redskins player served as an honorary captain for a pregame coin toss. Reporters have been making their first visit to the university for the deaf and hard of hearing, where they get an instant education in how to pronounce the school and the proper way to refer to its students.
For weeks, the Bison just wanted to get on the college football map. Now they’re squarely in the spotlight, with a 9-1 record, a conference title and the first NCAA playoff berth for a men’s team in school history.
“With this run,” coach Chuck Goldstein said, “we’ve definitely made some new friends.”
It’s also definitely not the norm for a coach who loves routine. The exposure has been invaluable, but there’s also a game to play: No. 25 Gallaudet, ranked nationally for the first time, faces a long bus ride to New York state for Saturday’s Division III first-round game against No. 7 Hobart.
“There’s no question people around the nation know who Gallaudet University is,” Goldstein said. “They know about our football program, but they know about our university and what we can provide for deaf and hard of hearing people. It’s been exciting, there’s no question about it. It’s been a learning experience, how to handle the pressure of competing at a high level, week-in and week-out.”
The new visitors on campus have given coach and players a chance to dispel a few misconceptions. First of all, it’s “GAH-leh-DET.” (The “u’’ is silent.) Secondly, the students are either “deaf” or “hard of hearing” — not “hearing impaired.”
“And sometimes they assume that you have to talk very slowly,” said defensive end Adham Talaat, who is hard of hearing and could become the school’s first NFL player. “But, honestly, we either have interpreters, or some of the players, they’re able to speak for themselves, like myself. Other than that, it’s just being politically correct. You can’t say ‘hearing impaired.’ The deaf community feels very strongly about that. We don’t see it as an impairment. We just can’t hear. That’s it.”
Goldstein is determined not to let the attention become a distraction. Budgeting time has been a challenge. One television crew followed him around and told him to “go about your normal day” — yet they also made requests such as: “Can you walk down that hall one more time?”
Eventually, enough was enough, so he declared Tuesday as the final day for interviews so that his team could focus on the playoffs.
Not that he would trade the exposure for anything.
“This is one of the best recruiting tolls we’ve been able to have,” Goldstein said. “We’ve reached out to kids all over the country that maybe who are deaf or hard of hearing and didn’t know about Gallaudet, they saw something on the news. I can’t reply to the emails fast enough.”
Goldstein has also heard from long-lost alumni — “We’ll be asking for donations soon for rings,” he said with a laugh. The Bison’s newfound fame got them on the Giants’ field before the 7-6 road loss to Maritime in their regular season finale — “We practiced in their new indoor facility, which was beautiful, which we’ll never do again because we didn’t win,” he said with another laugh.
Redskins safety Reed Doughty, who wears hearing aids, brought his family to the home win over Anna Maria and took part in the coin toss wearing a Bison jersey. Doughty also started following Talaat on Twitter.
“That definitely made my day,” Talaat said. “My jaw dropped.”
Convention wisdom says that a Bison win on Saturday would be gravy. Goldstein and his players aren’t thinking that way.
“The history, that’s all behind us,” Goldstein said. “We’re hungry. We lost our last game. We can’t wait to get on the field again. The success, we enjoyed it while we had it. Now we are 100 percent focused on Hobart College.”