Three Atlantans hope to help U.S. Women’s Deaf National team continue dominance

Kate Ward, who grew up in Chamblee, has the most caps (35) of anyone on the U.S. Deaf Women's National Team.

Credit: Joy Marshall U.S. Soccer

Combined ShapeCaption
Kate Ward, who grew up in Chamblee, has the most caps (35) of anyone on the U.S. Deaf Women's National Team.

Credit: Joy Marshall U.S. Soccer

Credit: Joy Marshall U.S. Soccer

Three Atlantans are part of a team that will look to continue one of the more dominant runs in soccer.

Though it’s a trail of dominance that few may know.

The U.S. Women’s Deaf National soccer team, which now includes Ashley Derrington, Beth Barbiers-Feustel and Kate Ward, hasn’t been beaten in its first 35 matches, dating to 1999. It has scored 191 goals and allowed 10. It will try to win its seventh gold medal when it plays Japan on Saturday in its opening match in the World Deaf Football Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“That’s all pressure, but I think that’s also a little bit of what drives us to work harder,” said Derrington, a midfielder who grew up in Alpharetta and now lives in Los Angeles. “I think women’s sports, women’s soccer in the U.S., it’s always across the board had their level of expectation … so I think we’re very proud to be able to kind of be considered at that caliber. But it doesn’t come without its moments of panic and stress.”

The U.S. is scheduled to play Turkey on Sept. 27, England on Sept. 29 and Poland, a team that gave the U.S. a difficult match the last time they played, on Oct. 1. The semifinals are Oct. 3 and the championship is scheduled for Oct. 6. The third-place game, which none of the three players are even contemplating, is scheduled for Oct. 5.

“There is a lot of pressure,” said Barbiers-Feustel, who is a defender and lives in Candler Park. “But I have seen our team play. And I’m confident. I’m confident in my teammates. I’ve seen the future (younger players), and it’s bright.”

Credit: Joy Marshall / U.S. Soccer

Credit: Joy Marshall / U.S. Soccer

Ward, a midfielder who grew up in Chamblee, said she’s not only proud of the team’s success but also of the legacy it is creating.

“I do think sometimes when I talk about how successful we are on the field, a lot of times for me, I’m probably most proud of the things that we’ve done off the field as far as I didn’t grow up with a role model who was deaf,” said Ward, a five-time gold-medal winner. “And I think one of our goals is to impact the lives of players growing up like us. So those moments that we get to share with others, I think they are the things I’m most proud of, but obviously winning is fun as well.”

For those not familiar with the rules for deaf soccer, the players can’t use any type of hearing aid while playing. That can make communication challenging for those players who aren’t as good at sign language as others, particularly when the coaches are rattling off instructions. To signal stops in play, the referee will raise a flag. Players are expected to stop and raise their arms so that those around them can also see that there is going to be a restart because of a foul or the end of a half.

The players were training individually until the team convened Monday to fly to Malaysia. Derrington and Barbiers-Feustel played in recreation leagues to stay in shape. Ward coaches the women’s soccer team at High Point University in North Carolina, which she said has helped keep her in shape.

All three said the U.S. will play a possession-based, physical style. Ward said it’s the deepest team the U.S. has had. The tournament has a small field because several national teams were late scratches. This world championship was supposed to be played in 2020 but was delayed by COVID-19.

Since then, the U.S. won the 2022 Deaflympics, defeating Poland in penalty kicks.

“They’re coming for us right now,” Barbiers-Feustel said.

The women each started playing soccer for reasons that are relatable.

Ward started playing when she was 6 years old at Atlanta Fire United. She played club soccer for various organizations during middle school and high school. She played in high school at St. Pius X, helping it win three state titles. She’s been playing for the U.S. since 2009 and is its all-time caps leader (25).

Barbiers-Feustel began playing while in high school in 1995 because the team needed more people. She played in college in Kansas. She’s played in the Atlanta area since 1999 mostly in the women’s league for various teams. She played for the state team for two years in U.S. Regional Tournaments. She started playing with the U.S. team in 2017.

Derrington started playing when she was 4. She said she loved wearing her pink converse high-tops but didn’t like playing soccer. Around fourth grade, a new girl moved into her neighborhood who really was into soccer. Derrington began playing again. She played for different clubs through middle and high school, helping teams win numerous tournaments in the U.S. and Europe. She started playing with the U.S. team in 2016.

As expected, they are very competitive.

Barbiers-Feustel, who used to race motorcycles, said she probably won’t be able to enjoy visiting Malaysia until after the gold medal is secured. She said, or possibly joked, that when the U.S. team was in Brazil in 2022, the team went to look at a waterfall. She said all she wanted to know was that they were there, wondering if a gold medal was at the bottom of the pool.

“I don’t care that we’re going to another country,” she said. “I don’t care what we’re doing. We’re there to win.”

Each said they are excited about the new National Training Center for the United States Soccer Federation that will be built in metro Atlanta. Part of the $50 million being donated by Atlanta United and Falcons owner Arthur Blank is to make sure that all of the extended teams, which includes the deaf teams, have every accommodation they need to be successful.

“I think, first of all, the fact that U.S. Soccer is willing to invest in all the teams is incredible,” Ward said. “I think Arthur Blank is obviously being very generous with this, and I think it levels out the playing field for everyone and for the first time, we are treated as elite athletes. And so that is something that I feel like is a long time coming. We’ve never had these sorts of resources before. So, I think that’s going to be awesome.”

The players offered a few suggestions during their interviews on Zoom.

Among their hopes are for signage and lights for everything, most everywhere. Some of the players can’t hear sirens, for example. They hope that there are sign-language interpreters so that they can learn from everyone. They hope that all video technology comes with automatic captioning. They hope for low ceilings, which helps sound travel better, and rounded corners on walls because they can see but can’t hear people coming toward them. They hope that walls are made of glass so that they can see if someone is signaling to them. They hope the lighting is an appropriate level to eliminate glares, which can make it a challenge when seeing someone who is signing.

Credit: Joy Marshall / U.S. Soccer

Credit: Joy Marshall / U.S. Soccer


“I would love to see some of that money being used to tap into the deaf community in Atlanta, creating more awareness around the extended national teams,” Derrington said. “And what makes those teams different, I think would be really cool to be able to kind of expand beyond just the U.S. Soccer level but into the community.”

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