The LGBT sports community in Washington has a rich history of creating welcoming and inclusive spaces where all types of athletes can embrace the rewards that come from participating in sports.
This week in the Blade’s Game Changers series, we meet a gay athlete from theD.C. Pride Volleyball Leaguewho is helping bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing communities.
Growing up in Des Moines, John Isaacson didn’t pick up sports until high school where he was a three-sport athlete in basketball, football and track.
He ran track for four years at Gallaudet University and was a 400 meter and 400 meter hurdles specialist. Isaacson also ran cross country at Gallaudet for three years.
“I have always enjoyed running and being a hurdles specialist had parallels to what I experience in life,” Isaacson says. “I overcome barriers every day as a deaf person and combining my love of running with jumping hurdles was a great fit for me.”
Gallaudet University is the only higher education institution in the world in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students. Its enrollment is a mix of students from all over the world.
Isaacson served as captain of the track team for his final two years and points to the experience as a great opportunity to meet people from as far away as China.
“I really liked the team environment and meeting so many people with different life experiences,” Isaacson says. “I stayed in D.C. after graduating in 2017 because I love living in a stable deaf community.”
Isaacson was playing in social pick-up games with D.C. Pride Volleyball when he learned about their league which runs in the spring and fall. He wrapped up his fifth season at the end of 2019.
“Volleyball is a complete team effort and I love the strategies that are involved,” Isaacson says. “The sport has been a new thing for my mind and body, and it is great to be developing different skills.”
D.C. Pride Volleyball plays on the tournament circuit with the North American Gay Volleyball Association and Isaacson has competed locally as well as traveling to tournaments in Atlanta, Denver, New Orleans and New York City.
“My favorite position on the court is middle blocker,” Isaacson says. “I am a good jumper and I take a lot of pride in my blocks.”
Isaacson has also played with Stonewall Kickball and is now in his first season with D.C. Gay Basketball League. Playing gay team sports has helped him expand his social network.
“I wasn’t out in college — I would say I came out more internally,” Isaacson says. “The LGBT sports community has helped me grow as a person and has allowed me to be more myself. I am always seeing other players out and about in D.C.”
The D.C. Pride Volleyball League averages between three and six deaf players per season. Isaacson says everyone, even those without ASL skills, can be creative while communicating whether it be through gestures or texting in person.
Isaacson, who works at Access Interpreting as the scheduling coordinator, provided a well-attended one day ASL for Volleyball Seminar for the league players. Along with standard conversational exchanges, it included terms related to volleyball.
“I have always wanted to build a better bridge between the deaf and hearing communities,” Isaacson says. “It’s important for us to work together as a team to communicate more effectively.”