By Kaci Schneidawind • Bethany Lutheran College Senior
When Wesley Shade (’21) first found out he was named to the United States Deaf Men’s National Team, the junior soccer player was understandably ecstatic.
The news, which came only a few weeks before school started, was even more special as it was the culmination of a personal journey that “I’ve been on since I was two years old,” said Shade.
You see, Shade has played soccer his whole life. The sport defines him.
What doesn’t define him, but remains a significant part of his story nonetheless, is the fact that he was born deaf and has worn cochlear implants in his ears since early childhood.
“Without my implants, I can’t hear anything at all,” Shade said.
Around two or three years ago, Shade found out about the Deaf National Team through a camp that he used to go to.
“One of the counselors there was like, ‘Hey, you should try out for this team,'” Shade said.
He decided to give it a shot, which led to an opportunity to play with the team in Boston at a tryout this past winter.
Afterwards, Shade received a call from the head coach informing him that had he had qualified for the next round of tryouts, which took place in Dallas only a few months after the initial round.
Shade’s performance there resulted in an invite to the final round, where there were about 25 men — compared to the original 40 or so with whom he had been going through the tryout process.
After the final tryout, five more were cut. Shade wasn’t one of them. He made the team.
To qualify for the Deaf National Team, one has to have a hearing loss of at least 50 decibels. Though some on the team can hear partially, “they’re right on the cutoff,” said Shade.
Some of these other players don’t have implants like Shade, so he communicates with them in American Sign Language.
More than that, Shade said, it’s illegal for a player have a hearing device on them during a game.
Therefore, the team relies on signage to “talk” with one another while they play together.
“It’s definitely different for me,” said Shade, who wears his implants while playing soccer with the Bethany men’s soccer team.
Though he prepped for this change while practicing with the National Team, Shade is still adjusting to it.
“I have always played with my implants [turned] on. I have always had hearing people communicate with me, but going into the [training] camp, I had no idea what to expect.
“The first game that I played in [with the National Team] was a whole different ball game. I’m used to having people yell things at me, but [with them] it’s completely silent—nobody can hear anything. I had to be a lot more aware of what was going on,” said Shade.
He found help from more experienced teammates who have been on the squad for years.
“With the National Team, I definitely feel comfortable because they’re in the exact same shoes as I am, versus here, where some [teammates] may not necessarily understand [my situation] because they’ve never been exposed to that.
“When I’m playing or just talking with [the National Team], it’s definitely easier for me to be more outgoing and interactive,” Shade said.
That isn’t to say that the Bethany boys haven’t been supportive of Shade’s situation. He said that both his coach and his teammates were “beyond excited” for him when he told them his news.
“I’ve had a couple guys talk to me about the culture of Chile because some of them are from that area,” said Shade.
That’s right: Shade will be representing not only his school, but his country, on the world stage.
The tournament in which the National Team will participate is located in Temuco, Chile, in November 2019.
“I get to go to another country and play soccer there. To be able to experience a different culture, and interact with other deaf people will be really fun,” Shade said.
The tournament, held Nov. 9-19, will feature six teams in total: A rgentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and the United States.
We at Bethany applaud and wish Shade well as he goes after his goals. View the team’s website at www.usdeafsoccer.com.
(Photo by Rodkay Photography)