If you’re a deaf athlete, odds are you’ve heard of 68-year-old, sports pioneer Howard Gorrell of Delaware. He grew up completely deaf from birth in Dayton, Ohio. When he was a child, an elementary school teacher told him about Bob Carley, a deaf 1940s Minnesota Golden Gophers athlete who was All Big-10 in football. That created the spark Gorrell needed to play several sports in high school.
Unlike many college-bound deaf students, Gorrell chose Ohio University instead of Gallaudet College, a school charted specifically for people deaf.
In an email, Gorrell wrote, “I admit I had lots of frustrations in the classroom (at Ohio University) due to breakdowns in communication, but I was persuaded by my college fraternity brothers and (fellow) physical education majors to reach my goal of graduation.”
In 1969, he threw the javelin and hammer to place fifth and sixth, respectively, at the World Games for the Deaf held in Yugoslavia. Starting in 1924, this event held every four years is now called the Deaflympics, with the next Summer Deaflympics convening in 2013 in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Since 1978, Gorrell has managed the U.S. Dresse Cup tennis team, the “deaf” version of the U.S. Davis Cup team. Like the Deaflympics, the Dresse Cup happens every four years, with the U.S. in 1995 winning a gold medal under Gorrell’s leadership.
In addition, Gorrell helped U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens draft the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which established the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Gorrell and U.S. Olympic swimmer Donna De Varona served together on the USOC National Handicapped Sports Committee.
He wrote he wasn’t introduced to the deaf culture until “age 33, when I got caught between two worlds: the deaf and hearing. Then I started learning sign language, and participated in the American Athletic Association of the Deaf (renamed the USA Deaf Sports Federation) and other organizations for the deaf to build up my knowledge of the Deaf culture.”
Outside athletics, he served by invitation of Delaware’s State Supreme Court Chief Justice as a representative to a national group trying to improve judicial court access for people who are deaf; and he received a state award for helping people with disabilities. He also has been on the front lines fighting Maryland’s flawed Congressional redistricting plan.
He advised people who are deaf: “Don’t feel inferior. With the exception of hearing, just do what a ‘normal’ person does.”