“Our story is not just about the game. Our story is that deafness is not a handicap or a disability. Look at these women. They’re strong, talented, beautiful, and completely in control.”
During the 1998-1999 college basketball season, Gallaudet University fielded a women’s team of remarkable ability that won the Capital Athletic Conference regular season championship, the Conference tournament championship, and advanced to the “Sweet Sixteen” round of the NCAA Division III tournament. The team’s accomplishments seem even more extraordinary considering that undergraduates number less than 1,200 students at Gallaudet, which grants no athletic scholarships. As much as the team’s superb play thrilled the students and other fans, the stellar record they established demonstrated that deaf university athletes could compete among hearing colleges and win, an even more significant achievement in the eyes of the Gallaudet community.
Wendy Tiefenbacher, an adjunct faculty member at the time, recognized the unique quality of the women’s team early in the season and offered her photography students the opportunity to follow and photograph the team as a class project. When she received the photographs at the end of the year, she was amazed at their unique quality as well. Photo after photo revealed the passion, work ethic, and exuberance of the players as they marched on toward their goal of a championship season. Understanding that she had in hand a striking record of achievement by students at the university, all scholars and artisans in their own right, Tiefenbacher created Deaf Girls Rule. In her research she learned, too, that Gallaudet enjoyed a rich tradition of women’s athletics since its earliest days, which she added as a poignant frame of reference for the 1999 team. In bringing these elements together, Tiefenbacher has produced an exquisite photographic chronicle. Deaf Girls Rule celebrates the capabilities and accomplishments of two teams at Gallaudet University, the winning women scholar-athletes and the gifted visual arts students who captured them in images of timeless appeal.
Wendy Tiefenbacher is Director of Photography at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine in Washington, DC.