When Jordan Kohl was 3, her parents realized that something was wrong. Their daughter wasn’t forming full sentences the way she should and wasn’t able to say certain words. They had Jordan’s hearing tested, and found that she had about 58-59 decibels of hearing loss in both ears.
It’s likely that the last thing they considered at that time was that their daughter would grow to 6-foot-3 and 20 years later lead the USA to its first World Deaf Volleyball Championships gold medal.
Kohl will be a junior at Texas State, where last season the right side led the team in kills (289), kills per set (2.78) and was third in blocks (61). The 2014 Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year has 60-72 decibels of hearing loss, and the doctors are unable to explain the source of her hearing loss.
“She’s a major part of our team,” longtime Texas State coach Karen Chisum said. “She’s a strong left-handed player, was an all-conference player last year, she is a dominating force. The setter knows to make eye contact with her when calling plays just in case. It really doesn’t hinder her at all.”
Kohl’s hearing aid restores 50 decibels of her hearing loss, at least until her hearing aid pops out when she gets sweaty or the battery dies. At the World tournament, hearing aids are not allowed, so the team has to develop systems to communicate.
“In the deaf games, we’ll usually confirm everything with hand signals,” Kohl said in a telephone interview. “Being hearing impaired forces us to build trust. We have to know who’s going to get this ball, who’s going to get that ball, etc. After a while, we get the feel of everybody and how they play, how they react, what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at. Once we got everything down it was just clean, simple, and easy.”
Easy was the key word.
“When we get together, we start off with easy plays,” she said. “As the tournament progresses, and we play more difficult teams, we’ll run more advanced plays, like free ball plays. We don’t run anything complicated.”
The USA won the world title at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., on July 15, sweeping the Ukraine 25-19, 25-11, 25-21, capping a tournament in which the Americans lost only one set. Gallaudet, of course, is well known for its education of the deaf and hard of hearing. The coach of the USA team was Gallaudet’s Lynn Ray Boren.
“I was out of the game when we reached game point,” Kohl said. “They gave us a free ball, and I remember thinking right then and there, ‘Oh, it’s done. We’ve won.’ Then outside hitter Abby Jensen put the ball straight down, and I was just like, thank you. Oh my goodness, thank you so much. The feeling was indescribable.”
Initially, Kohl, who is from San Angelo, Texas, wasn’t sure if she wanted to participate with the deaf team and take her focus away from preparing for Texas State’s season.
“It was such an opportunity for me to represent the red, white, and blue,” Kohl said. “At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this or not, thinking I should focus on college, but my coaches encouraged me strongly to do this, after all, how many chances do you get to represent your country? And I thought, OK, why not try it out.”
“Her teammates love her, we’re proud of her, we’re proud of the opportunity that she was given to go represent the United States. She’s brought increased visibility to our program at Texas State. We’re very, very proud of her and her success, she has two gold medals at the Pan Am games and the World deaf games. Great accomplishment.”
Kohl believes the USA’s dedication and commitment earned the country’s first gold medal.
“The girls that had been playing for the USA were like, we haven’t been able to win Worlds in a long time, with our abilities and work ethic, we can actually do this,” she said. “We put our work and commitment into playing every day, and it just really paid off, and that is indescribable. We played every day for 20 days, pretty much an entire season put into three weeks.”
And it requires more than just dedication and commitment to play in the World Deaf Volleyball Championships.
“Each person has to raise a minimum of $1,800 to play.,” Kohl said. “I didn’t have an issue raising money, when everyone heard about it, they all pitched in, and I raised about $1,900 in about eight days. I received so much support from everyone it made everything so much easier.”
It all added up to a great experience.
“That was my first time playing with a team of deaf girls,” Kohl said. “It was a completely different but super-fun atmosphere just to watch everybody interact with each other, to internationally sign, the way they talk, to learn from everybody.”
The Gallaudet college team was well represented with Ludmila Mounty-Weinstock, Kali Frowick and Ann Whited.
Among the players who were Kohl’s teammates Tulane incoming freshman Cali Bunn, a 6-footer from Encinitas, Calif., who will play beach in college, and Maryland-Baltimore County’s Heather Kerley.
And perhaps the most notable deaf player is the USA Olympian David Smith, who was born with mild- to severe hearing loss. The 6-foot-7 middle wears hearing aids but is a remarkable lip reader.