Bree Sproule represents Canada in deaf women's volleyball.

Bree Sproule represents Canada in deaf women's volleyball.

Sproule uses sixth sense in Deaflympics

Oyama’s Bree Sproule may only be 19, but she has already earned several high-profile assignments with Team Canada.

Graeme Corbett

Morning Star Staff

Oyama’s Bree Sproule may only be 19, but she has already earned several high-profile assignments with Team Canada’s Deaf women’s volleyball program.

A veteran of the 2008 World Championships in Argentina, and 2011 Pan Am Games in Brazil, Sproule will be adding the Deaflympics to her resume as she battles with Team Canada this week in Sophia, Bulgaria.

“I was chosen to play for Team Canada when I was 14 years old,” said Sproule. “I was honoured and shocked for this privilege.

“Because I was so young, I trained very hard and learned so much from our coach and teammates. It means a lot to me to represent my country. It is also important to represent deaf women and to show that we can play at a high level, even if you can’t hear.”

The Deaflympics are held every four years and are the longest running multisport event next to the Olympics. Bulgaria will be the 22nd Deaflympics, which will attract nearly 4,000 participants from 84 countries.

“The things I am looking most forward to is playing good volleyball with my teammates and representing Canada at the Deaflympics,” said Sproule, who is taking social work studies at Gallaudet University.

“I am also excited to take a tour around Bulgaria to learn about their history.”

Sproule, a graduate of the George Elliot Coyotes, has played club volleyball in Vernon, Winfield and Kelowna since Grade 7.

She completed her first year of post-secondary with the Gallaudet University Bisons in Washington, D.C., the only deaf university in the world.

A defensive dynamo in two seasons of club volleyball in Vernon, Sproule adapted to the libero position, but also filled in at setter. At 5-foot-5, she is too short to play up front, so instead uses her speed and reflexes to thrive on the back line.

“I like to play defence because I can get a chance to dive in and save the ball. That’s what I like to do to help my team,” said Sproule.

“My strength as a player is to be a team leader. I try to keep the team together on the court and off the court during social time.”

Team Canada met in Toronto for a few days of intensive training before heading to Europe. Sproule’s goal is to reach the podium, but said there is a lot of quality opposition, including the U.S. and the reigning world champion Ukrainians.

“Our challenge will be to play as a team. We are a new team and there are a lot of new players.”

Sproule, the daughter of Oyama orchardists Neil and Jacqui Sproule, was born profoundly deaf, meaning she is unable to detect the loudest sounds produced by an audiometer, an instrument used to measure hearing by producing pure tone sounds through a range of frequencies.

Sproule said it can be challenging at first when playing on a team where other players can hear. But she would always take time to explain her condition and how best to overcome any gaps in communication.

“It can be difficult playing on a hearing team,” said Sproule. “Before I join a team, I always talk with the coach and the players and explain what it is like for me and how the most important thing is eye contact. I also need to explain the role of an interpreter.

“While we are playing, we have some codes using hand shapes or waves. I have good eyes, so I can notice movements before most of the other players.

“Through the years we have made it work while playing on a hearing team, but I really enjoy playing on my deaf team because there are a lot less barriers to overcome.”

Sproule learned about Gallaudet through her connections in the deaf community in the Okanagan. As the only university of its kind, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

At Gallaudet, all campus staff – from cafeteria workers to tutors, coaches and teachers – are required to know American sign language.

“They told me about it when I was younger, and I was really curious about it,” said Sproule, who was super excited to learn the school is just 10 minutes from the White House.

“I love D.C. – there are a lot of museums, it is easy to commute and sightsee and I love all of the history. I have gone to a number of tournaments in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and Massachusetts.

“It is very difficult to get enrolled there because it is in Washington, D.C.  It took me a few months to get in because I had to write and await the scores from my SATs.”

The Bisons compete in the NCAA Division III and the North Eastern Athletic Conference. Sproule played 23 games in her freshman year, racking up 12 aces and 29 digs in helping Gallaudet to a 29-6 record to top the NEAC.

They fell to Randolph-Macon College in the opening round of the Division III playoffs.

While it might seem Sproule and her teammates are at a disadvantage playing teams that can hear, she explained there are also several advantages.

“They don’t understand what we are planning while on the court, and we are completely focused because we cannot hear comments from spectators or the other team,” she said.

Once she obtains her bachelors degree in Social Work, Sproule would love to come back to B.C. to work with deaf families and children.