Austin-area athletes making a splash at deaf college Gallaudet
By David Driver – American-Statesman Correspondent
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dalton Taylor played football and basketball at the Texas School for the Deaf, and he considered joining the slew of state products who go on to play football at the college level.
“It’s a football state,” Taylor noted.
But that started to change after he met Kevin Kovacs, now in his second season as the head men’s basketball coach at Division III Gallaudet University, founded in Washington D.C. in 1864 as the only school for the deaf in the country.
Kovacs saw Taylor play hoops in high school, and now the 6-3 power forward is a freshman reserve for the Bison.
“It has been tough compared to high school; college is a lot more physical,” Taylor said through an interpreter. “I have to play a lot smarter. It is definitely tougher. There are a lot more obstacles and how I approach those obstacles is different than at the high school level.”
Taylor, who is deaf, was born in Chicago and also lived in Rochester, N.Y. before he moved to Texas in 2009. Now he’s in the nation’s capital, where he has enjoyed seeing the White House and museums.
“I came for the education. It is the only deaf university in the world,” Taylor said of Gallaudet. “I grew with (Gallaudet). It was always in our curriculum (at Texas School for the Deaf). Basketball was a plus.”
Gallaudet is 14-3 overall and 6-0 in the North Eastern Athletic Conference. Taylor, one of seven freshmen on the roster, has played in 11 games.
“The strength for the team is really our chemistry. We have an unbreakable bond,” Taylor said. “We have a great team this year and our goal is win the conference and get into the national tournament for the first time in history.”
Taylor, who’s majoring in communications studies and minoring in deaf studies, is one of four athletes from the Austin area now at Gallaudet. McNeil’s Julian Simons is a junior on the men’s swimming team, and teammate Niko Lutes-Stein is a freshman who grew up in Austin before moving to Washington D.C. to attend a deaf high school there. And another McNeil graduate, Jana Kiefer, is a junior on the women’s swimming team.
“I got to learn on how to have the best of both worlds — being a regular full-time student and being an athlete at the same time,” wrote Kiefer, who placed third in the butterfly and in the 200 IM in a double meet in New York in December. “The highlight so far for me is feeling like I have found my family, and my teammates being there for one and another.”
Simons played football as a freshman. This is his first season on the swimming team. He came to Gallaudet with a football body, but dropped nearly 60 pounds within the last year, said veteran Bison swimming coach Larry Curran.
“He did a lot of that on his own before he started swimming,” Curran said. “He wants to learn; he has a good attitude. His times have dropped tremendously since he started.”
Lutes-Stein, who tried out for the school’s soccer team, provides depth in relay events and also is a freestyle swimmer. Taylor knew him at TSD before Lutes-Stein moved to Washington.
In basketball, Taylor comes off the bench and is averaging a modest 3.6 minutes a game.
“Dalton is a great student-athlete. He has ambitions to do well as a student and an athlete and he works hard for it,” Kovacs wrote in an e-mail. “I’ve watched him play in high school and always liked how hard he played on the court both ways and often appeared to be coachable, which is what we are always looking for.”
Taylor, who played wide receiver, tight end and linebacker in high school, is glad he decided on basketball at Gallaudet.
“So far it has been a great experience for me,” he said. “It has been a transition, but it has been a great transition for me. I have to improve my skills. That way I can get some more playing time in the future.”