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Defying the Odds: Creating a Level Playing Field for All Athletes

Betty Glyptis poses on the golf course with a club and hat wearing a pink golf polo

Valerie Glyptis

When Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native Valerie Glyptis's daughter, Betty, was diagnosed with mild-moderate sensorineural hearing loss at the age of three, she never dreamed of her daughter not being able to play sports like anyone else. Betty's inner ear is damaged. Therefore, she can only hear sounds in close contact with her, posing new challenges for the young golfer.

PGA Jr. League is open to all children 17 and under of all abilities and skill levels. Embarking on a PGA Junior League career can be a tremendous task for any child, let alone someone who is deaf or hard of hearing. Soft sounds like a golf cart whizzing up behind Betty or someone shouting from a distance can be tough for her to hear or interpret. With the help of hearing aids, Betty has overcome a lot of these challenges, but some still remain. Regardless, this mother-daughter duo takes it one day at a time.

Embracing challenges

In her third year of the 13 and under division, Betty is starting to work through some significant challenges the average athlete would not face. If Betty is spoken to from a distance vs. face to face, she cannot hear you, Valerie noted. For instance, if a score is being confirmed across the green, Betty will attempt to read lips or come in closer in an attempt to understand.

For example, Betty recently attended a tournament where her score was recorded wrong. "She just buried herself in me and just started crying,"  Valerie stated. "My heart was just crushed."

While Betty’s hearing aid offers some assistance, it also creates a new set of obstacles for her such as hearing other players talking during her turn. PGA Junior League etiquette is to be quiet during each player's turn to allow for focus.  "The hearing aid is picking up everything and elevating it all to the same level," Valerie said. While other players are strategizing, Betty is faced with drowning out all extra noise, while creating a game plan for herself.

She stated that Betty faces these challenges more often now, but together, they are taking each one head-on. When Betty's hearing aid went out during a rainstorm while playing at a tournament, her concentration broke. She finished her round only hearing out of one ear–the other was waterlogged. Valerie now carries an extra set for her just in case. "Despite the expense, we do what we have to do." Despite the extra hassle, Betty still loves and embraces the sport.

Betty's challenges pose the question - how can athletes, parents, and coaches make a proper level playing field for a player like Betty?

For the love of sport

Keith Worek, former president of the U.S. Deaf Golf Association and current board member for the World Deaf Golf Federation, offers hope for young golfers like Betty.

"I have been involved as a player in the World Deaf Golf Championships since 2002," Worek said. "Growing up, I played baseball in a league with hearing people, and my father volunteered to coach the team so that he could explain to me what was happening both during and after the game.”  Worek suggests that fellow athletes and coaches can take the time to repeat or explain things that deaf golfers might have missed in conversations.

Worek states, “...deafness and hearing loss is a spectrum. Not all deaf people use American Sign Language (ASL), and not all deaf people lip read. What works for one deaf person might not work for another; there is no "one size fits all" approach. It takes patience and time.’”

A level playing field for all

Communication is key. To stay ahead of the game (literally), Betty told the next group she played with about her hearing loss, and the opponent asked how he could talk to her.

"He asked if she knew sign language; it was such an incredible gesture of kindness. It really is the little things," said Valerie.

Betty is taking further steps to advocate for herself, but fellow athletes, coaches, and parents can also take a stance for players like her. "I would ask everyone to be patient and kind," Valerie said. "She may have just not heard you."

"[Golfers] should work with the golfer and ask them what barriers they are facing and ask them how they can best help," Worek said. "If a golfer uses ASL, you can gesture or learn sign language to communicate with them. In golf, you can learn numbers in ASL to help with communicating the score, and a few simple terms and phrases like "birdie," "par," or "nice shot!'"

Patience, kindness, communication, and understanding are essential when working with an athlete like Betty.

"As a parent, I want to teach her how to be independent and confident in herself and her abilities. I do not want her to feel any different," said Valerie.

"I am really proud of her that she is able to overcome her challenges. I don't like to use the term disability in the big picture of things."

Bright future

Valerie and Betty are continuing to advocate for better understanding of players who are hard at hearing. Betty just started playing 18-hole rounds and has dreams of playing college golf. Valerie continues to give Betty agency to pave her own path in the golf world.

Worek encourages golfers of all abilities to find other deaf golfers who live nearby. They can help better your understanding. "There are some deaf golf tournaments that would be great for young golfers. Make friends at those tournaments. Having friends in the sport will help build motivation to keep golfing."

Are you looking to find deaf golfers or tournaments in your area? Reach out to the U.S. Deaf Golf Association to get connected.

Learn more about the World Deaf Golf Foundation (WDGF)

The mission of the WDGF is to promote the sport of golf among deaf and hard of hearing golfers in the world and oversee the World Deaf Golf Championships. The WDGF relies on the Internet and word of mouth to expand its reach. We hope that people who go to the World Deaf Golf Championships will tell their friends about it and share their love of golf. The WDGF successfully advocated for golf to be included as a sport at the Deaflympics in 2017. 

Sports in this article

Auditorily Adaptive Sports, Golf

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Sportsmanship Parent, Coach SportsEngine