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.”