October 2, 2023
In the World

Making Big Noise

Emma Neff ’27 Plays For Team USA Women’s Soccer In 2023 World Deaf Football Championships

Springfield, Ohio – Just one month into her first year of college, Emma Neff ’27 is taking one of the most unusual study breaks in recent memory.

A member of Wittenberg’s women’s basketball team, Neff is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a member of the United States Deaf National Women’s Soccer Team, which is competing in the 2023 World Deaf Football Championships from September 20 through October 8. Neff, an all-league soccer standout at Oakwood High School before arriving at Wittenberg, earned her spot on the U.S. team roster through a tryout process that took place in July.

To prepare for her unique journey halfway around the world, Neff said she started communicating with Wittenberg professors and administrators over the summer to set up a process for completing her schoolwork. She said the process has gone well.

“The plan is to keep up with classes the best I can,” Neff said. “Doing work online is going to be the best bet, checking daily on what I need to get done. But I am happy that my professors understand, and communication with them is the most important thing.”

Under international criteria, players participating in deaf soccer competitions must have a hearing loss of at least 55 decibels in their better ear. All players competing in deaf matches must remove all hearing aids before playing.

The youngest of five children who have all achieved at a high level athletically, Neff had significant hearing loss as a young child that intensified each year until she was fitted with hearing aids as a third grader. She underwent a cochlear implant in her left ear the following year, and a cochlear implant in her right ear when she was in ninth grade.

The technology that Neff called “crazy stuff” in an article by Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon in January 2023 helped her to move past simply reading lips and responding to non-verbal cues to communicate with those around her. She overcame these obstacles to succeed academically at Oakwood while standing out in both soccer and basketball, earning all-league honors in both and all-state recognition in the latter.

She said her Wittenberg experience so far has been exemplary, as she has gotten to know her basketball teammates and find a routine that works well for her. While the trip to Asia obviously disrupts that routine, Neff said her experience with the U.S. Deaf National Team has been phenomenal.

“I have learned a lot already about this team and the opportunities it brings in my life,” said Neff, one of nine midfielders on the 22-player roster. “I was so thankful to be selected on this team, it truly means a lot to me. I have never been surrounded by people that are deaf or hard of hearing and played sports.

“Sports are an outlet to me, and getting to be with such great people that go through the same struggles I go through is very cool.”

The U.S. Women’s Deaf National Team is undefeated in international play since its inception in 2005 and has won all six world championship events in which it has entered. Sixteen players who won the gold medal in the 2022 Deaflympics are returning to the team, and the squad is coached by Head Coach Amy Griffin and Assistant Coach Joy Fawcett, both of whom were members of the U.S. Women’s National Team that won the first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991.

“The coaches are amazing, along with the girls,” said Neff, one of two players from Ohio selected to the squad. “It is such a great group that supports each other on and off the field even when we are miles away from each other. I know that I can reach out to any of them, and they will be there for me. That is something special to have.”

Traveling with her mother, Nancy, to the World Championships, Neff said the personal and team goals are nothing short of gold. But she also understands what it means to be a quality teammate.

“Our goal is to do it together, as a team, by working hard for each other on and off the field,” Neff said. “Personally, a goal of mine is to do everything I can for my teammates and to be there for them every step of the way.”

TOURNAMENT UPDATE: The USA has won its preliminary group with a 4-0 record and has advanced to the semifinals as the No. 1 seed. The USA will play fourth-seeded England on Tuesday, Oct. 3, with a kickoff set for 8:30 a.m. ET (8:30 p.m. local) from Kuala Lumpur Football Stadium. The winner of the match will face the winner of the other semifinal between Poland and Turkey to be played at 4:30 a.m. ET (4:30 p.m. local) on Tuesday.

Ryan Maurer
Ryan Maurer
Senior Writer and Web Communications Specialist

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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