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Sunday Set Piece with Kate Ward: "Everyone belongs in this game"

On June 1, the U.S. Women’s Deaf National Team defeated Australia 11-0 in a historic match which marked the first time an U.S. Extended National Team has played on television and the first doubleheader with a senior U.S. National Team.

This historical moment in U.S. Soccer can inspire future generations of players, and the team captain of the U.S. Women’s Deaf National Team is looking forward to the future.

Kate Ward was born hearing, and when she was four years old, she found out that she was deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other. When Ward was six, she noticed something else was wrong.

“I was walking down the hallway one day and realized my hearing aids weren’t working very well, so we went back to the doctor and I lost all of my hearing that I had in a month,” said Ward. “Then I got a cochlear implant which basically stimulates hearing, and luckily for me, it’s allowed me to live in the hearing world per se, play on hearing soccer teams, go to hearing schools and all of that. I grew up playing normal soccer with teammates who did not have the same lived experiences that I did.”

For Ward, the pitch was the place where she could be herself and not feel defined by her hearing loss.

“For me, the soccer field was always a place for me to just be normal. It levels out the playing field for everyone. It doesn’t matter if I can’t hear them, as long as I can score goals and make good passes,” said Ward. “I think I fell in love with soccer right around the same time I lost my hearing, which I don’t think is a coincidence.”

As the Atlanta native continued to develop as a player, one of the U.S. Men’s Deaf National team coaches saw her playing in the State Cup and noticed her hearing devices back in 2006.

“He went up to my coach and my coach told my parents the women’s team had just won gold in 2005 in Australia. I was like well, what do you mean? Like, I’m not deaf? Because for me, being deaf was someone who doesn’t wear hearing devices and someone who signs, so that was interesting for me to think about,” said Ward. “We decided I was too young, so when I was 15, it’s when we looked into it again. I went to training camp, and two months later, I was going to Taiwan for the 2009 Deaflympics, which was an incredible experience and obviously, it changed my life.”

After it was announced, Ward and a few of the other veterans on the team were ecstatic for the opportunity, but were surprised.

“It was always about doing this for the next generation. The next generation is going to get to do all these cool things, and that’s fine,” said Ward. “It’s been such a journey and I wouldn’t change a moment of it, but for us in the last year to get to experience what U.S. soccer is about, it just keeps getting cooler and cooler. I feel like we are riding a wave.”

For the team captain and her fellow teammates, this is an opportunity to help inspire future generations, and allow for them to have someone they can look up to.

“This is such a huge opportunity to potentially change lives. We have a platform where who knows who’s watching,” said the Atlanta native. “There’s another little girl or boy who saw us wearing the crest and they have hearing devices, and realize I could potentially do this someday. It meant a lot of different things for us.”

This historic match highlights the growth that the U.S. ENTs over the past few years, and it is going to continue to grow as U.S. Soccer moves to their new home here in Georgia. Ward highlights how Georgia has grown into a hotbed for Soccer, and seeing teammates that she has played with go on to have successful professional careers and play for their national teams.

“I feel like I was really lucky to grow up in Georgia and receive the resources, the coaches and the training that I did. I'm really proud to be from the Peach state,” said Ward. “I love it there, and I think it's even cooler with U.S. Soccer coming to Atlanta, it's awesome. I think it's going to be a huge opportunity for the city and I think it's well deserved.”

With this massive growth of soccer, especially women’s soccer, here in the U.S., Ward is seeing more women who want to play professionally in front of her own eyes as she has started coaching at High Point University.

“For people around our age growing up, the ultimate goal was to play college soccer, and that was it. It’s never been like that for boys. You see men go to college and their only goal is to go play pro,” said Ward. “Now we are seeing girls go to college, and my players that I coach now say I want to play pro after. I feel like that’s a really gratifying feeling and a really deserved feeling.”

As a coach, Ward is trying to instill the message of inclusion and growing the game together with her players as she has had experiences as a player, being the team captain for the deaf national team, and becoming a coach.

“To be able to bring that back to High Point where I'm lucky enough that I get to run a lot of the culture and leadership stuff, it's super cool to get to bring those lessons here,” said Ward. “I have that lived experience, so to share that with my players and share why inclusion is so important, not just where they are now, but also in life, has been really, really cool.”

With the growth of the U.S. ENTs, Ward is trying to break the stigma that many people have when they view these teams.

“Over the last month since the game was announced, we started to get to promote it, what we have said over and over has been I hope that people see our ability more than they see our disability,” said Ward. “I think one thing that I want people to realize is just because we do things a little bit differently doesn't mean that we're not as intelligent, as talented, as driven, or as successful whether it's with the deaf team or any of the other extended national teams.I also think were really fun to watch. That's something that I said about my team a lot. We have a lot of fun together, and I think it shows.”

Ward reflected on one of her favorite moments since being with the national team, and she stated that it is when the team is able to give back to the community. She even shared her favorite memory from this past camp, and it proves how important it is to promote the extended national teams in this way.

“Myself and two of the other players, Sunny Andrews and Gracie Fitzgerald, we met with a little girl named Zoe. Her mom had reached out to us, and Zoe wears hearing devices, and she wanted to zoom with us, so we hopped on a zoom call with her, and she's ten years old, so she's going, like, a mile a minute. She was like, I did this in school today, and then she jumped to, like, you know, sometimes at school, people make fun of me because I can't hear, and you're wiping a tear for your face. Then the next second, she goes I love basketball too, so you're riding the wave of her,” said Ward. “Then when I walked out to the field, she was the one who was walking out with me, and I was like, how cool is that? It’s such a full circle moment, and then I hope someday she's able to do the same as a player.”

Kate Ward has had an outstanding career with the U.S. Women’s Deaf National Team and continuing to spread the love of beautiful game whether she is on or off the pitch. Ward’s message to anyone who wants to be a professional athlete is simple: inclusion is so crucial to the game, and who you surround yourself with.

“Everyone belongs in this game, and everyone has the right to be a part of it, and so finding your place is really important, not just in life, but also on the field,” said Ward. “Surrounding yourself with those people who empower you is extremely important, whether you just want to play for fun or whether you want to pursue playing professionally or for your national team. I think that who we surround ourselves with is who we become.”

Listen to Madison Crews’ full interview with Kate Ward on this edition of Sunday Set Piece on the SDH Network.

(Photo: Justin Edmonds / Getty Images for U.S. Soccer)

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