Laura Hawksworth: What it’s like to play for the only deaf short-mat bowls team playing in professional leagues in England

Posted on October 22, 2014

My short-mat bowls team is the only one of its kind in England; a full team of deaf individuals, with the exception of one wonderfully extraordinary and patient woman, who organises our matches within our leagues and various other things for our team.

We play in a hearing league within our city throughout the year. We do fairly well, although we rarely win the league, we are never bottom either.

You see, the surprise team was my team; Norwich Deaf Sports; the only short-mat deaf team playing in professional leagues in England.

I like to think we are passionate about playing short-mat bowls, as we always strive to win every game we encounter, but sometimes, we meet teams that are just as good as we are.

IMG_6172553576376When we do, we always fight back with everything we have got.

However, as wonderful as the other teams we play with are, we do run into barriers regarding our deafness, such as attitudes and judgement.

There are some individuals that fill me with rage regarding their stereotypical view of deafness.

Because of that, we tend to be excluded by those narrow-minded individuals. However, there are some wonderfully extraordinary people that are the loveliest people you could ever meet and even better, they treat us as their equals, rather than treating us like we’re on the bottom of the heap.

There is one experience, however, that I will never forget.

As I signed up for Norfolk competitions last year, I thought it would be a wonderful experience for me as a young player, to learn more about how to improve my game and to learn from my elders who had been playing the game of short-mat bowls for far longer than I have.

I was genuinely looking forward to it, but when I look back, I did have a funny feeling that something was going to happen. However, I didn’t know how greatly it would affect me.

As I arrived on the day and threw myself in playing, I immediately felt a lot of tension between my mini team and the other team. As we progressed within the game, I started noticing the other team was nit-picking on things we did, such as how we stood on the mat or how we bowled.

A fiery pit of anger was building up inside me. As I started watching closely at how they played, I realised that they were doing the same thing themselves. As I built up the courage to point out that they were making errors, the skipper of the other team just smirked at me and simply dismissed me.

At that point, I sadly gave up. At that point, I turned and saw all of the under 18s, who played in various teams across various leagues in Norfolk, surrounded by the skipper I clashed with.

I asked my teammate what they were doing and he explained that he was training all under 18s in Norfolk who participated in short-mat bowls. I turned to him and asked, “Why didn’t they ask me too, then?”

He had no answer for that and I immediately knew I was being excluded because I was deaf.

As I returned home, I broke down and vowed to never play in the Norfolk competitions again; not because I lost, but because I was excluded and ignored. I had never felt more isolated and lonely that I did that day and it caused me a lot of pain. I even considered giving up short-mat bowls up altogether.

However, I found the courage to continue for another year. So I decided to push myself further and to prove those critics of Deaf Sports wrong.

As I pushed myself, I was rewarded with the consideration of becoming a skipper for my team and was given multiple chances to be a skipper.

As my team progressed through the league, I decided to take a break for the summer to give myself time to think if I should continue or not. However, I was called in for the first round of the Summer Cup and as we won, I decided to give in and play all of the cup games if we did progress.

And here we are now, readers. A week ago, we reached the final. Norwich Deaf Sports, the biggest shock of the summer league, had made it to the final after beating two superb teams 8-0 and 6-2. Now we were facing the giants of the Summer League.

The advantages they had didn’t stop us from fighting back but ultimately, we lost.

I’m proud to say that we are runner ups of the Summer Cup in Norwich, but in my eyes, we, as a small team, fought as hard as we could against a team full of Norfolk and England short-mat players.

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