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(Cave Spring, Georgia) – The word “handicapped” is in the eye of the beholder.
As brightly-colored pom-poms shook violently in the home stands of the Georgia School for the Deaf’s first-ever female student-athlete signing, the silence was deafening.
With more than a hundred summer-session students and a couple of dozen faculty and staff members on hand to cheer on GSD girls basketball standout Brittney Daughtry, I quickly realized who had the handicap.
Wanting to thank Daughtry for taking time to speak with me was my first challenge. Just as if I had been instantly transported to the middle of China, I quickly realized I didn’t know how to communicate. At that moment, I was the one who was handicapped.
“This is how you say ‘thank you’,” said the newest Lady Bobcat as she lowered her hand down from her chin and brought it towards me. In a world which does not always think of those without the gift of hearing, Brittney didn’t miss a beat in responding to my basic desire to simply learn to communicate enough to thank her.
In just moments, I was extremely thankful for my next gift from GSD. They provided me with someone to translate sign language so I could speak with her. It was as if someone had clicked off the mute option on my television. “Thank you,” I quickly signed.
This K-12 school in Cave Spring, Georgia has been in business for 165 years. This is the first time a female student has signed to play a collegiate sport on any level. More than 27 years ago, the school saw its first-ever male student-athlete sign to play college basketball when GSD alum Willie Brown headed to Hofstra University.
The 5-foot-10 Lady Cats forward who is originally from Sylvania, Georgia is now working towards her Early Childhood Education degree at Georgia Northwestern. “I love to work with kids,” said Daughtry. “I want to help them and watch them learn like all my teachers and coaches have done for me. It always makes me feel so proud.”
Before attending GSD, Brittney says she didn’t have much interaction with other children. Born with hearing, Brittney began to lose the ability to hear when she was two years old due to a high fever. When it was time to enroll in kindergarten, the decision was made for Brittney to attend GSD.
Daughtry first started playing basketball when she was eight years old. “I played in a 10-under league just to learn the game,” said Daughtry. “I loved the game so much I just took it all in. I quickly picked things up. I just keep learning the game. And now, Georgia Northwestern is just the next step. I’d love to play professional women’s basketball one day.”
As a former MVP of the Mason-Dixie Regional Basketball Tournament which pits the schools for the deaf from states across the eastern seaboard against each other, Daughtry knows her biggest challenge is yet to come. “I have so much I want to do in college,” said Daughtry. “This is just the next step.”
“Brittney is a great motivator on and off the court,” said GSD girls head basketball coach, Danny Woolmaker. “With her gone, we still have some key standouts. We are very proud of our team, but we are rebuilding. She never gives up and knows to listen to her coach and has been successful doing so.” Woolmaker has been the girls coach at GSD for the past seven years.
Now a full-time college freshman, Daughtry is ready for her first collegiate season to begin. “I’m excited to work with the new coaches,” said Daughtry before going through a tryout session. “Learning what they have in mind for me is key. Whatever role they need me to play, I’m ready.”
Georgia Northwestern freshman Brittney Daughtry is among several thousand freshman at the region’s largest college.
At GNTC, she is a motivated student, a future teacher, and an outstanding basketball player.
One thing she is not is handicapped.
Lady Cats practices will officially begin on October 1. For more information on Lady Cats Basketball at Georgia Northwestern, contact the Office of Sports Information at 706-764-3813. You may also e-mail Don Foley in the Office of Sports Information at dfoley@gntc.edu. For more information on Georgia Northwestern, visit their website at GNTC.edu.