This is fairly old news (about three years old), but I found it interesting to read through two ESPN articles about Michael Lizarraga here and here. Lizarraga is a deaf basketball player who, as a college student, made the dream of playing Division I basketball a reality by earning a spot on Cal State Northridge’s basketball team as a walk-on. He was the first deaf Division I basketball player in history.

I consider myself a basketball fan. I’ve actually written a few posts on basketball here and was considering starting an NBA-based blog for myself. (I decided not to pursue that idea since there are already too many excellent blogs that cover the NBA.) So as a deaf person myself, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m interested in Lizarraga’s story.

It appears that Lizarraga and I were born and raised under similar circumstances. His family had no history of deafness, and his parents didn’t find out he was deaf until they brought him to a doctor as a toddler. Lizarraga’s parents, like mine, were willing to learn sign language, and they mainstreamed him in school and introduced him to sports.

When Lizarraga was in sixth grade, he started attending the California School for the Deaf, and stayed there until college. (For details on my educational history, see My Pre-College Education.) While encouraged to go to Gallaudet by friends and coaches, Lizarraga instead opted for Cal State Northridge, since he wanted to have the chance of playing Division I basketball (Gallaudet is Division III). Another plus for Cal State Northridge is that it houses the National Center on Deafness (NCOD), America’s first postsecondary program to offer full-time, paid interpreters for hearing-impaired students.

While at Cal State Northridge, the coaches reached out to him and encouraged him to try out. Somehow he not only made the team but ended up as a solid rotation player, which is quite rare for a walk-on.

Of course, there is the nontrivial matter of setting up accommodations. He was quite fortunate that an (apparently competent) sign language interpreter volunteered herself for the purpose, but I would be curious to know how involved Lizarraga or his parents were in this process. Also, it unfortunately does not appear that Cal State Northridge always provided accommodations. This section in the 2010 article caught my eye:

What started out as a way to goof off on the sidelines while they couldn’t play quickly turned into a second language for Galick, who even began dating a deaf girl he met through Lizarraga. Galick has become so good at sign language that he can fill in for Mathews [Lizarraga’s interpreter], who is unable to attend as many games and practices as she has in the past because of budget cuts.

Uh-oh … budget cuts leading to a lack of interpreting services? It reminds me a lot of the article I wrote about RIT’s accommodations. And this is happening at a school that has the NCOD! Hopefully this didn’t have any detrimental effects, but I wonder if Lizarraga knew that if he really wanted to and fought hard enough, he could probably obtain full interpreting services for all practices and games.

From what I can tell, Lizarraga is now playing professional basketball in Mexico and is seeing some playing time in the 2013-2014 season. There does not seem to be substantial media coverage on him, so I can’t really say much more. I hope things are going well for him.