California women’s football coach brings diversity to already diverse team

It is perhaps fitting that Carole Nugent finds her most comfort wearing a Title IX hat. As the director of the Fullerton Deaf Team’s athletics, she is tasked with nurturing and preparing a deaf football squad with one of the greatest “values in athletics” as she often likes to point out: fairness. But that requires an uncompromising focus on the constitutionality of gender equity in the classroom and the realm of sports. Nugent came up with her own all-inclusive terminology when talking about the league’s values: “The board and I have called it the Fullerton Deaf Girls Champions,” she said. “It encompasses equity and sport.”

But, frankly, female athletes in athletics have not been a particularly cooperative lot. In California and elsewhere, grassroots organizations have been under ferocious attacks from the power structure in the state and across the country. A mild reaction to gender parity in athletics is rare. When it occurs, athletes from marginalized groups are often the ones who are left to carry the bulk of the burden.

Of course, Nugent’s goals are more lofty than simply parity. The Fullerton Deaf Team has long been regarded as a perennial underdog. In the last two years, she has overseen the creation of a women’s baseball team. But, for Nugent, the greatest step forward was adding three teams — a women’s softball and basketball teams along with the football squad — that are both full of deaf athletes and fully integrated into the school.

Most of those recruited to the team were from families in which a deaf elder was elderly. One player was a high school senior who wanted to catch the glory of a college sports scholarship, but was unable to teach herself sign language due to her background in a deaf community. But, the deaf young women and men also demonstrate a physical edge that Nugent often sees as the result of wearing sports uniforms, and of being sworn in as genuine, as opposed to — some would argue — adopted athletes.

“The girls are just so different from our boys,” said Nugent. “They’re more aggressive. They’re bigger. They’re stronger. They’re more savvy.”

Sometimes, Nugent wonders why her straight-talk is not enough to neutralize the self-proclaimed football heroes that can be found on the sidelines. “I think sometimes the guys, to some degree, have a chip on their shoulder,” she said. “They’re used to being bigger, faster, stronger, stronger.”

For Nugent, being a deaf coach is as demanding of total commitment as being a woman, a police officer, or just plain big. Fullerton Deaf Team head coach Mike Morris, a large white man, is by all accounts dedicated to the team. But Nugent admits she has faced some early skepticism from her male counterparts. When discussing the Titans new women’s softball team, Nugent routinely hears former players from smaller communities, such as the Stockton Spartans, question why a deaf sister university would want to bother with a women’s softball team.

That undercurrent of negative attention has certainly not helped Nimber’s plans for an all-female, female-led football team. “It’s been a balancing act,” she said. “I’ve had to be mindful of others’ assumptions and needs.”

To know Nimber, then, it is essential to know her priority is the Fullerton Deaf Team’s college and professional athletes — some whom are now heading out into professional athletic leagues. For her, there is no option but to aim higher.

“We’re not just another school,” she said. “We’re not just another athletic program.”

Read the full story at The Orange County Register.

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