‘We’re not just a deaf school’: The drumbeat behind Gallaudet’s playoff run

'We're not just a deaf school': The drumbeat behind Gallaudet's playoff run

WASHINGTON — Last week, on an unseasonably warm November afternoon, Gallaudet offensive line coach Todd Collins jogged onto the field, pushing the team’s big bass drum on wheels to midfield, where he banged on it repeatedly, signaling to the nation’s only deaf and hard of hearing team it was time to stretch. While many couldn’t hear the thunderous, rhythmic beat that echoed through the otherwise quiet campus, they could all feel its vibration.


Lateral stretch to the right.


Lateral stretch to the left.


On one knee for hip flexors.

Coach Chuck Goldstein, who is hearing, hasn’t used a whistle at practice in 13 years.

“At the end of the day, when I come into these gates, and I come into work, I’m not deaf, I’m part of this community,” he said. “I’ve learned about the culture. I respect the culture.”

As the sun set on the nation’s only entirely deaf campus, the lights in the nearby dorm rooms glowed softly. When one blinks, it signals a visitor has arrived. The doorbells at Gallaudet change the lighting instead of making a sound because most students wouldn’t hear a doorbell or a knock. On game nights, it’s not uncommon to see multiple windows winking on different floors. In the morning, alarm clocks vibrate under pillows.

The football team is undersized, composed of many players who have never been on a full roster, are still learning their position and can’t hear when the official blows a whistle to stop the play. They were picked this preseason to finish fifth in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, but the Bison have won their conference title and are returning to the Division III NCAA tournament for only the second time in school history, and the first time since 2013. They will travel to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday to face No. 8 Delaware Valley University in a first-round game at noon ET.

“With all the close games, and you’re not supposed to be winning, it’s almost like the cherry on the cake every time you win again,” said defensive coordinator Stephon Healey. “I think the world has a lower expectation of us. We have a belief in ourselves, and to be able to get it done has just been … it’s been pretty magical, to be honest.”