USADSF Spotlight with Noah - US Deaflympian, Richard Jacobs

Noah: Hello! Welcome to USADSF Spotlight with Noah. I am Noah Valencia. Today, we will interview Richard Jacobs. He is one of the first Deaf Handball players to be on the USA Deaf Handball Team in the 1989 Deaflympics. He participated in four Deaflympics, all in handball, and won three bronze medals. Not only that, he also tried out for USA Team Handball for the Olympics and made the team! So I am very excited to interview him today.

Noah: For our audience who are watching, they might not understand the sport of handball so could you please describe this sport? How is it different from any other sports?

Richard: Handball is a combination of different sports: basketball; soccer; and volleyball. It is played on a basketball court with a slightly larger court size with a half sized soccer goal post. There is a boundary line where only the goalie can stay in. Outside of that, there is another line that is called a six meters line and nine meters line which is for resetting a play. The sport is played by sharing a ball among 7 players as it is a 7 versus 7 sport. To succeed, you must pass the ball as you cannot hold the ball for more than 3 seconds. You are allowed to take up to three steps. You can dribble the ball as well.

Noah: It is like playing basketball with three steps.

Richard: It is not encouraged to dribble the ball a lot. It is a fast paced game with plays involving lots of passing the ball across the court and “criss-crossing” with a goal of pulling the defenders out to the sides to create an opening to be able to drive, jump and score.This is how it works. The goalie’s job will be to defend the ball from being scored. The average score can be around 10, 15 or 20 points, depending on how good the defense is.

Noah: How many quarters does Handball have? Or does it have halves?

Richard: 30 minutes every half.

Noah: 30 minutes per half.

Richard: There is no stoppage of time. The clock keeps on running.

Noah: It is like soccer.

Richard: It’s like soccer, yes. You can sub with your players at any time during the game without any timeouts, like hockey. Yes.

Noah: Wow.

Richard: That sums it up.

Noah: That is a fun sport!

Richard: The one thing that I love about this sport is the physical contact that comes with the game. The defensive players would physically hold the offensive players by the shoulder and hips to prevent them from shooting towards the goal. There is no gear protection. I loved the physical contact of the game.

VIDEO: Richard receiving the ball and attempting to score the ball as two defensive players attempt to stop him from scoring. He is wearing a USA uniform.

Noah: You were one of the first handball players to try out and make it on the team for the US Deaf Handball team for Deaflympics, correct?

Richard: Yes.

Noah: What was the experience like being on the first USA Deaf Handball team that participated in Deaflympics?

Richard: In 1987, I planned to try out for the basketball team for the Deaflympics because I was already on the Gallaudet University basketball team at that time. One player came up to me and asked if I was interested in trying out for the handball team. I was skeptical because I did not know anything about the sport, so he explained to me what it was about. I thought it sounds interesting, a different sport. I like trying something new, seeing it as a challenge. The tryouts were held at the US Olympics Training Center at Colorado Springs! I went ahead and paid for my flight ticket to try out for a sport that I had never played before. I had no idea what to expect except for what my friend had explained to me, the basic rules of the sport. So I flew there with some players from Gallaudet. When we arrived there, I watched the Women's National Handball Team and I was in awe. That weekend of the tryout, I picked up an understanding of the sport very quickly. The executive director of USA Team Handball, Mike Cavanaugh was at the site and was impressed with my performances, how I picked up the game quickly. After being selected on the US Deaf Handball team for the Deaflympics, I flew back to Gallaudet University. Mike Cavanaugh emailed me a personal letter, asking me to go back to the training center to try out for the US Team Handball for the Olympics!.

Noah: Wow.

Richard: In the letter, it stated that if I made it on the team, I would have to leave Gallaudet University and move to Colorado Springs to live and travel with the team. I decided to decline his offer and focus on graduating from Gallaudet University then I could go back to try out. That was in 1987. In 1991, I graduated, so I sent a letter to Mike Cavanaugh that I was ready. He invited me to come and try out with the hearing team at the US Olympics Training Center. I showed up and the tryout lasted for almost two weeks and I was selected! I made it on the US Handball Team for the Olympics. I moved to Colorado to live, eat, and train with the team 24/7 for three years.

Noah: What experience did you have of training with your Olympic (USA Team Handball) team?

Richard: The communication part was tough. Some players tried their best to communicate with me. One thing that I learned was the ease of my accessibility to communication as a deaf student in a deaf school and at Gallaudet. I had never played on a hearing team, so when I joined the team, the players were surprised to see a deaf player on the team and wanted to learn sign language. I was enthusiastic and wanted to form a connection with the team by teaching them signs but they wanted to learn signs for bad words and foul language. They were excited and I followed along. After two weeks, swearing was their form of communication with me. To me, that was not communication at all. I wanted meaningful communication as a team, to work on playing games but what they were interested in was swearing. So I decided to stop and focus on two players who tried their best to learn some sign languages. Our communication mode on the team was more of a home sign system. I could not force my teammates who did not show any motivation to learn signs.

Richard: I managed to get through training by being a visual learner. I was lucky that I was gifted with skills that I was able to pick up plays/moves through my eyes and with few players who could sign and interpret. Eventually, the US Olympics Committee discussed my issues about getting an interpreter. They received a grant to provide for an interpreter. That took place in 1993. With the support of an interpreter, I immediately improved where I could now understand things much more. We went to the World Games in Sweden.

Noah: You did?

Richard: Yes. I went to Sweden, where we played against Korea, Norway, and many more. I played well because I finally understood the game. The interpreter didn't go with me to Sweden. I was very motivated. Then that summer while training for the 1993 Deaflympics in Bulgaria, a few days before leaving. My ACL snapped. My dream of going to the Olympics in 1996 was shattered. I was devastated.

Richard: The experience that I had with the Olympics (US Handball team) where I didn’t make it… I was glad that I did it because I had tried, so now when I look back, I am glad that I did it. If I had never done that, I would have thought “I wish I had”. I went along and challenged myself.

Noah: Now you can say that you did. You can say that “I did it!.”

Richard: Right!

Noah: That’s important.

VIDEO: Richard kneeling along with his US Handball Team team. Everybody is wearing red warmups. The circle spotlights Richard Jacobs’ face.

Richard: During my last Deaflympics in 2001 in Italy, …..

Noah: You played Handball?

Richard: Yes, Handball, in 2001. I still have that. (showing his Handball shirt) I am proud of this. Great memories. In that year of 2001, there was a National Championship tournament for handball teams where everyone on the Handball teams competed. We, the US Deaf Handball (Deaflympics) team, had moved into division one tier. This team was very united. This was possibly one of the best teams after my four Deaflympics appearances. I was excited to play because we were solid as a team. We played well and we advanced all the way to the championship where we won the National Championship against West Point Army school.

Noah: Wow.

Richard: They were strict and had just come out of boot camp, but we beat them with the score of 22 to 20. We were very thrilled!

VIDEO: Richard Jacobs leading a team chant where they sign “USA”. The USA flag waves behind them.

Noah: Wow! I want to thank Richard Jacobs for the interview today. I also want to recognize Deaf Mosaic #903 on YouTube for some clips that I borrowed for today’s interview. If you want to watch more, you can find the videos on YouTube under the name of Deaf Mosaic #903. Until then, so long.

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