December 15, 2017
While most students were enjoying their summer break, Kirkwood High School senior Ethan Bell spent his summer playing for the U.S. Men’s Deaf Volleyball Team.
After training in California, Bell left with the U.S. team for Samsun, Turkey, where the 2017 Deaflympics were held July 18-30.
Bell said he was nervous about the trip at first because of what he heard about the political situation in Turkey. Last year, there was an attempted coup of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“When I went there, it was a great place,” Bell said. “The people were really nice, and the food was some of the best food I’ve had in my life. I never did feel unsafe.”
Bell’s mother, Jennifer, travelled separately to watch her son play in Samsun.
Jennifer Bell said she first flew into Istanbul and took a tour while waiting for her flight to Samsun.
“I was probably by myself most of the time in Samsun,” Jennifer Bell said. “I had absolutely no problems. I would go down to the Black Sea and hang out and have lunch. I would hang out at the beach by myself, shopped by myself and had no issues. It was a phenomenal experience.”
Athletes from 10 countries competed in the Samsun Deaflympics. Despite speaking different languages, Ethan Bell was able to communicate with players from other countries using sign language.
Jennifer Bell estimated her son is about 60 percent deaf. He has difficulty hearing speech unless it is in a quiet situation.
|Ethan Bell, in the blue shirt, goes to the net during a recent volleyball practice held at C4 Competitive Courts and Conditioning Center in Creve Coeur.
photo by Diana Linsley.
“If my friends are over and there is a bunch of people talking, I won’t be able to hear them unless they are right next to me yelling in my ear,” Ethan Bell said. “Or at school during lunch, that’s the worst. I have to stay really close or go somewhere quiet so I can actually hear.”
Ethan Bell was the only player on the U.S. team still in high school. His teammates ranged from age 18 to 46.
When Ethan Bell first tried out for the U.S. team, he thought it would be only for people his age. He said he was surprised when he went to the tryout to see grown men trying out.
“It was kind of weird because I’ve always played with guys who have been the same age,” he said. “These guys are talking about college and I don’t even know this stuff yet. I just couldn’t relate, but they were really nice about it.”
Jennifer Bell said despite her son’s youth, he assumed a leadership role during the Deaflympics.
“He is standing in the huddle telling people what to do,” she said. “For as young as he is, he knows a lot about volleyball. Everybody just kind of likes him because of the way he is. He’s easy and knowledgeable, but not in your face.”
At age 11, Ethan Bell started playing volleyball. He said he first relied on his height advantage, but worked hard to become a polished player.
“It was kind of weird because I’ve always played with guys who have been the same age. These guys are talking about college and I don’t even know this stuff yet. I just couldn’t relate, but they were really nice about it.”
— Ethan Bell
“(The coaches) would say ‘go home and visualize this and practice this,'” he said. “That’s exactly what I would do. I would go home and work on it, even if it was just 10 minutes. The next thing you know at practice, I was executing the same skill I was working on.”
In Turkey, the U.S. team beat Poland for its only win, but finished in eighth place overall.
“For not having a team in 11 years, I think the fact we qualified for it was great,” he said. “We just need to keep going up from there and get some sponsorships.”
Each player needed $5,000 to make the trip to Samsun since there were no sponsors. Several players had to back out because they did not have the money to make the trip, Jennifer Bell said.
“It’s rough right now, but obviously it has a lot of potential because my work has agreed to be one of the corporate sponsors of the team,” she said.
Ethan Bell said he wants to play volleyball collegiately after graduating from high school. He said he has not made a decision on where he will attend college.
“When I was younger, I wanted to go to UCLA, but when you think about it, it’s all the same,” he said. “As long as I’m getting an education, that’s all that matters for me. Eventually, volleyball is going to have to come to an end, but I’ll still need a job.”