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When Touria Ouahid Boren came to Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1996 to begin her freshman studies and to join her Swedish compatriot and best friend, Therese Rollven, it marked the beginning and ascent of the women’s basketball program at Gallaudet University.

With Boren and Rollven, who started her studies at Gallaudet the year before Boren, playing point guard and shooting guard, respectively, and the dominating force of Rhonda Jo Miller, the women’s basketball team rose to a height unprecedented in the program’s history. It captivated the entire Gallaudet community, the American deaf community, and the Capital Athletics Conference. At every game, spectators could count on Rollven’s tenacious defense style and fast speed to the corner for a three-point shot, and Boren’s uncanny ball-handling and razor sharp accuracy for captivating passes.

In 2010, another sort of revolution took place back home in Sweden. The Swedish Deaf Sports Federation, (Svenska Riksidrottsfurbundet–SDI), competed for and won a grant from the Swedish Deaf Olympic Organization to send representatives to Gallaudet University to study how it provides support to its student-athletes, both academically and athletically. Joachim Sundström, SDI president and sports director, Alenka Horvath, a physical education teacher at Sports Education for the Deaf (RIG) in Örebro, and Leif Jarnkvist, football (soccer) coach and physical education teacher at RIG, were at Gallaudet December 6-8 to meet with the Gallaudet University Athletics Department staff and Clerc Center Athletics Director Mark Burke.

“Swedish deaf school children these days, unlike their counterparts in the past, are not encouraged to participate in after school sports activities,” according to Boren. Instead, they attend after school programs geared towards leisure and computer games, she said. This has led to stagnation in physical activity and sports skills development in deaf youth. SDI would like see this trend reversed, and the key, according to Boren, “would be to establish an after school program that will combine both academic and athletic activities.”

The SDI representatives’ visit was also an opportunity to get acquainted with Gallaudet’s admissions process and the educational programs, since a number of deaf students at RIG are interested in applying for enrollment to Gallaudet in the future. “SDI would like to prepare these students before they take the steps to apply to Gallaudet,” said Sundström.

“It was interesting to see the difference between how high school sports and academics are administered, and that activities for all students are conducted at the school where the students themselves act as leaders,” he said. The visitors also learned that students who are doing poorly academically may not be eligible to participate in a varsity sports program. Or, should a student be tardy to practices, team meetings, and game, the student risks losing his or her place on the team. Another interesting fact the Swedish visitors noted was that Gallaudet University student-athletes tend to specialize in one sport, playing year-round, whereas the Clerc Center offers seasonal sports with student-athletes compete in two or three sports during the course of a school year.

Sundström, Horvath, and Jarnkvist were elated to find that their Swedish basketball player star, Boren, has been elected to the Athletics Hall of Fame for her contributions to the Bison’s past success.

During the last day of their visit, the group got to watch both the women’s and men’s basketball game play visiting Pennsylvania State, Abington. They were impressed that the women’s basketball coach, Kevin Cook, has Women’s National Basketball Association experience, and has learned sign language.

“We value our international trip, and think we got a lot of inspiration and ideas to improve deaf sports back home in Sweden”, said Sundström. “Of course, we can’t copy the Gallaudet sports model because of the difference in culture and how sports competition is viewed, especially at the high school level, but there are some things we saw and learned that we can implement at RIG; for example, mandatory attendance at training, the period of training, and the reward system to athletes and awards/scholarship to students.”

SDI and RIG hope to create a partnership with Gallaudet for students who may want to enroll at the university. “Our Swedish basketball and [soccer] players have a natural place in Gallaudet sports programs,” said Sundström.

–Larry Musa

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