By: Sean Neidig, sports information graduate assistant, read the full version here
COLUMBUS, Ohio – In many ways, Casey King is like any other college freshman. Coming from a private high school, she enjoys the freedom of not having to wear a uniform every day. Classes are more challenging but she is a good student. Time management is sometimes a test and she admits to oversleeping every once in a while.
There are other ways though in which Casey is not like many others. She is weighing career options that include getting into the competitive and difficult fields of bio-statistics or radiology. She has earned playing time as a midfielder for Capital University Women's Soccer and is tied for second among the team's freshmen in points. She has represented her country on an international stage. And she is deaf.
Casey was born with bi-lateral hearing loss in both ears, meaning she has been deaf since birth. When she was 13 years old she received a cochlear implant, a device that allows her to hear natural sounds but she still relies on her interpreter, Bianca Smith, to help her communicate with others.
"Honestly, I'm not really any different than anyone else," Casey said while signing to Bianca. "Obviously I have to work a little bit harder, but that's all."
Casey began playing soccer when she was eight years old after watching her older brother play. Two years after she started her playing career, she knew that she wanted a higher level of competition. Thus began her club career, first with FC Phoenix and Freedom and finally with Ohio Premier. At her tryout with OP, she met Capital head coach Matt Ogden, an assistant with the club. That tryout began a relationship that is now in its eighth year. Right away, Ogden could see Casey's potential.
"The biggest compliment you can give her is that you forget that she is deaf," he said. "She just blends in with every other player. There is no real significant difference when you watch Casey play."
The Bexley native has exceled as a young player, having helped Bishop Hartley High School to three-straight district finals and OP has one of the best reputations in Central Ohio. In 2014, Casey took another step in her journey.
"My former soccer coach found an article about this woman, Felicia Schroeder, and she was an outstanding soccer player at Purdue," Casey said. "She was in an article and I really wanted to get in contact with her so we started emailing back and forth and she told me about the deaf national team and I was really interested in that."
Founded in 1999, the United States Deaf Women's National Team has competed all over the world since then, winning award after award. The team is coached by former U.S. Women's National Team members and World Cup winners Amy Griffin and Joy Fawcett. When the team was competing at the 2012 World Deaf Football Championships, also known as the Women's Deaf World Cup, the team practiced at Capital and Casey came to watch them in person.
"I had really supported them for a while and they came to Capital in 2012 and I came here to watch them practice and I met various players," she said. "Some of the players I met at that time are still on the team now. They're about to retire but it was a really fun experience. When they came here and I was watching them play it made me realize that I really wanted to be on the team."
King achieved that goal two years later when she was selected to be part of the player pool for the 2016 Deaf World Cup. After two years of training with the team as a 15- and 16-year-old, Casey earned a spot on the roster and jetted off to Italy to compete for the world championship. The U.S. outscored their opponents 22-2 in the preliminary round before advancing to the knockout rounds and then facing Russia in the championship match. The team claimed its second consecutive World Champion title with a 3-0 win and Casey remains in the player pool.
"I played with so many standout deaf and hard-of-hearing players and we won," King said. "We won the final game and I would say that final game was my best throughout the tournament."
King scored twice against Russia. Her time with the national team was the first time she had trained and played on a team made up entirely of deaf and hard-of-hearing players, an experience she said was surprisingly easy having played on hearing teams for her entire life.
Even after returning to the States with a gold medal, the rising junior did not have much time to relax. Next on her list was deciding where she wanted to attend college. A good student, Casey kept her options open until deep into her senior year. She even visited Gallaudet University, a private university for deaf and hard of hearing students in Washington, D.C., and although she had a good visit at Gallaudet, she felt that it was not the best fit for her.
"I was a little bit late to make my decision. I committed in March of my senior year," she said. "I live about five minutes away from [Capital] so I was a little unsure about that but when I came to visit for the honors scholarship program and it just made me realize 'Wow, there are a lot of good people here' and it was different than I thought it would be."
Casey knew that attending a traditional university would be a challenge but she had grown up in hearing schools and the opportunity to attend a university that felt like home was too good to pass up. She also credited soccer with helping her learn how to overcome adversity. The journey was also made easier when King found out that she would have Bianca there with her. Capital hired Bianca to a full-time staff position to serve as Casey's interpreter.
"I was in third grade and [Bianca] was my practicum interpreter, my student interpreter, and we've known each other since then. She knew me when I had bangs," King said with a laugh. "I think it's been nine years, 10 years almost. It definitely shows [Capital's] commitment. We know each other really well and we know when we need each other. We're really good at keeping our relationship professional and I think the university realized that and I think they understood that we needed to continue that relationship so they provided me with the best interpreter."
Ogden said that it took a little bit of time for him to adjust to Bianca being around the Crusaders so much but that now she fits in seamlessly.
"It's kind of funny. When you first interact with Casey and Bianca stands over my shoulder, and as I'm talking to my team all eyes are on Bianca so I'm wondering if they're actually listening to me or if they are just looking at Bianca," he laughed. "Not only is she great with Casey but she's great with me. It's got to be difficult at times for her because when I'm in coaching mode sometimes you get excited, you get overexcited, and she has to deal with that. She's been at all the practices, she's been at all the games and she travels with us. The commitment from Capital to bring Bianca on makes it so much easier."
When Ogden first began coaching King at OP, he began taking adult sign language courses but the classes were so difficult that he knew it would take years to be able to use sign language to communicate. Because King does so well reading lips and because she has known Ogden for so long and is around her teammates so often, sign language is not always necessary for her to communicate with her coaches and teammates. Still, Bianca is a huge help as the team adjusts and when Casey is in class and participates in other events around campus.
Beyond being a talented player, Ogden is also happy that Casey is such a positive person and he says she has an aura about her that is infectious. It also gives his players and other students around campus the opportunity to meet and spend time with someone who has grown up with different circumstances.
"Those are the things that make us better, well-rounded people," Ogden said. "Not only is it a wonderful experience for me but it's a wonderful experience for the players that are around her, that interact with her, that become more aware of other peoples' situations and Casey is one of the best kids I know. I love her to pieces, all the players on the club team really gravitate towards her and the kids here at Capital all love her."
"It's definitely a new experience," said junior captain Maggie Peddicord. "I had to adjust but it quickly turned around. Casey is a great player and a great person and I really enjoy having conversations with her. She's fit in great. She's made a lot of friends on the team and she's making a great impact already. I've never met or spent time with a person like Casey so it was definitely a very cool thing to see how she lives her life and it's offered up a lot of insights for me into what she goes through."
Peddicord said that that sentiment has been echoed throughout the team and that each player has had their horizons expanded by playing and interacting with Casey, one of the goals Ogden had when he brought her on board.
Casey also knew some of the other Capital players prior to coming to school from the club and high school circuits, adding another layer of comfort for her and her teammates.
"When I met the soccer team, I already knew some of the girls because some of the girls had played on club teams and I realized that for the next four years I would be playing with them," Casey said. "I knew I would be able to form really great friendships."
Over these four years, Casey has the opportunity to break into one of the most competitive teams in the Ohio Athletic Conference and has already made an impact with two goals and an assist in 15 games and eight starts. With Casey's help, the Crusaders are 11-4 and 5-2 in the conference and have a chance to contend for the OAC Tournament title. Beyond the stats and results, Ogden is proud of the effort King has put in and how her attitude has affected the rest of the players.
"She's dealt with adversity all along the way, she's dealt with challenges that other people don't have to face and it's a massive compliment to her and her character and her perseverance," Ogden said. "She's a winner and she's a leader, and when she sets her mind to something she has every intention of completing it."