An interpreter for a deaf Culver Community high school basketball player was told by a referee during a sectional game Tuesday night that she was not allowed to walk alongside the coach and sign in front of the bench as she has done for every other Culver game this season.
Instead, the official told her to stand in one spot at the end of the bench, prompting angry words from Culver’s assistant coach followed by a technical foul, as well as boos from the crowd and shouts of “That’s wrong!” “That’s bad!”
The IHSAA investigated the incident Wednesday, Commissioner Bobby Cox said.
“We find no evidence where the interpreter’s access to the student was ever restricted,” Cox told IndyStar.
Video of the game between Culver and Argos shows the interpreter beside coach Tom Krueger when sophomore Joey Paul, who is deaf, is in the game. The interpreter has been with Joey at every game this season to relay what he can’t hear Krueger saying from the sidelines.
With less than two minutes left in the second quarter, a video shows, Culver’s assistant coaches are standing up. Only the head coach is allowed to stand during live play, according to IHSAA rules.
As a referee motions for the Culver assistant coaches to sit down, he sees the woman standing and asks her to sit as well.
Cox said the officiating crew didn’t initially know what the woman’s role was. He said the officials were not told by Culver’s coaching staff that the team had a deaf player and would have an interpreter assisting.
When the official was alerted that the woman was an interpreter, he called a timeout to confer with other officials. When he returned to the Culver bench, he asked that the interpreter stand in a designated spot by the scorer’s table for the rest of the game.
“Well, they are telling the interpreter that she has to stay in a certain area,” said the announcer for the game, which aired on RTCtv4. “It’s unfortunate and I don’t necessarily agree with it, personally. But the rules are the rules to keep her safe and players coming and going.”
The interpreter was asked to stand in a spot “outside the marked coaching box near the scorer’s table in order to be seen from both sides of the court,” Cox said.
He said officials allowed her to stand after the technical foul was called, which by IHSAA rules requires all coaches to sit for the rest of the game.
Culver athletic officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Joey and his family could not be reached for comment.
While it is unclear whether moving the interpreter affected her ability to hear the coach or communicate the coach’s instructions to Joey, the action riled some at the game and beyond.
“It is clear that the referee is wrong,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO and director of legal services for the National Association of the Deaf. “Regardless of what the rules are for who may be on the sidelines, even if they limit access to coaches only, denying an interpreter is a violation of federal laws mandating equal access for deaf people.”
Rosenblum said what happened “denies equal communication” for Joey.
Fans at the game took to social media saying the referee’s actions were unfair to Joey. Culver lost to Argos 59-37.
“What person would even question having an interpreter on the bench standing or sitting?” Deana Thomas posted on Facebook.
Argos athletic director Jon Alcorn, who was at the game, said he thought the situation was handled well by Krueger and the officials.
“When the head coach said she was an interpreter, the official jogged out to the middle of the court to talk to the other official, exactly what he should have done,” Alcorn said. “He then pointed her to a spot on the end of the bench and said, ‘Yeah, you can stand there.’ That’s it. She (signed) the game the whole time.”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @Dana Benbow. Reach her via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.