Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Sunday, July 29, 2001

Listen to Isobe -- you'll
be glad you did

HE wants to know if you've met a deaf person before. It's the first question Gerald Isobe asks, the first thing he asks anyone new.

Gerald Isobe is a golf coach. And a golfer. And a sign language teacher and a father and a husband and an accounting supervisor, and probably a lot of other things, too, just like we all are.

He's also deaf, which is at once a very big part of him and yet doesn't seem to matter a bit.

He wants to show you that.

He wants you to meet a deaf person.

Isobe has been the junior varsity boys golf coach at Punahou for nine years now. Each year the new crop comes in and meets their new coach. They meet a deaf person.

He is an organizer, a caretaker. An encourager. This is Punahou, remember, and the kids all have their private golf gurus, so Isobe doesn't want to mess with anybody's groove. He finds out who their teacher is and tailors his advice to match. He works more on the mental game. On goals. On focus.

He's deaf. He speaks with his hands. Think about this for a second.

He's teaching ideas, rather than technique.

But Isobe solves it. He knows how to do this. He puts together lesson plans. He has flip cards. He confers with his team. They communicate. At first, it's hard. But it works.

And by the end of the season, the kids are changed.

They've met a deaf person.

"Like our two children," Isobe says, while his wife Karen translates. "They never learned sign language, but just by exposure they pick it up."

ONE SEASON at the end of the year, Isobe took his team to meet a group of deaf kids from a deaf school. No hand holding. No interpreter. Just kids.

They played miniature golf. They laughed, joked, teased, Isobe said. The experiment was a success.

"Once you meet them and talk to them, then it's not a handicap," he said.

This is Isobe's mission.

The idea of a deaf golf championship seems silly at first, doesn't it? How does being deaf hurt you in golf? It doesn't, Isobe admits. On the links, he has only a golf handicap.

He prefers hearing tournaments, where the competition is better. But Isobe, who was a college all-American at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is on the silent circuit, too. He helped the United States team win the world deaf championship last year in South Africa. He's traveled all over. He just got back from placing third in the U.S. Deaf Golf Championship. He's a former national deaf champion.

One of Isobe's favorite words is "exposure."

It's a chance for somebody new to meet a deaf person.

And while being deaf doesn't stop him, it's a very big part of who he is.

So he teaches and coaches, and meets who he can. He plays in the tournaments and keeps the press clippings. Any attention he can get helps another hearing person meet another deaf one.

Sounds good to him.

Kalani Simpson's column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
He can be reached at

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