Only if Spencer Mauk’s team reaches the title game and wins it will the Lakewood Ranch High graduate be able to hear the reward for all her hard work.
The national anthem.
Competitors at the 2019 World Deaf Basketball Championships aren’t allowed to wear hearing devices during the games.
Hand signals and sign language. For communication, that’s pretty much it.
“But if they win it, they can put their hearing aids in,” Chris Mauk said. Along with his wife, Jodi, Spencer’s dad left for Poland on Tuesday to watch their 18-year-old daughter play for Team USA in the 10-team tournament that runs Thursday through July 6.
And Spencer Mauk isn’t shy about telling big brother Kyle, a state-title winning center for Joe Kinnan’s Manatee Hurricanes, who will own the family bragging rights.
“She’s been telling him, ‘You got a little state ring,’ ” Chris said. “ ‘I’m going international and I’m getting a gold medal.’ ”
Held annually, with both men and women teams participating, this year’s event is in Lublin, Poland. Chris Mauk had planned to take his family on an overseas vacation. Spencer recently graduated from high school and Kyle will graduate in August from college.
“Poland was not the choice,” he said.
A call in December from Lakewood Ranch head coach, Melanie Johnson, altered Chris’ plans. The head coach of women’s Team USA, Debbie Ayers, had reached out to Johnson, wondering if Spencer would be interested in playing for her.
“We didn’t even know (the championships) existed,” Chris said. “We’re like, ‘I would think so.’ It’s a real opportunity anytime you can represent your country.”
Spencer Mauk played on the Mustangs varsity basketball team for 2 ½ years. This past season she was a team captain, in addition to starring on the school’s flag-football squad.
Starting first at cornerback, then wide receiver, Spencer was Ranch’s quarterback last season. At wide receiver, she’d stand near the sideline as her coach would tell her the play.
“This year she was our quarterback and it was all hand signals,” Chris said.
Spencer was resigned to putting behind her the basketball portion of her life. Perhaps a little club ball at Florida Gulf Coast University, where she plans to focus on event management or business marketing.
Then the call from Johnson, a conversation with Ayers, and Chris’ five-word declaration upon which everything hinged.
“She is not totally deaf.”
That’s OK, Ayers responded.
“It’s based on how bad your hearing is,” he said. “You have to get all these tests, audiograms . . . and apparently the coach knew of Spencer and she knows that she played travel ball. (Ayers) liked it that she played mainstream high school.”
It was a great opportunity that came with a price tag of $3,500. Thankfully friends of Chris and Jodi donated, with their companies matching their contributions.
And a berth on the team meant a slew of goodies from main sponsor Nike. Team members got everything except what they really wanted.
“They were disappointed they didn’t get kicks,” Chris said.
In past years Team USA held tryouts involving players from around the country. This year, however, it wasn’t logistically possible.
“Spencer is one of three new girls who have never played before with the team,” Chris said. “When they met (on Sunday), they got on the plane, flew to Poland and had their first practice on Monday.”
Team USA opens Group D play on Thursday against Belarus. Pool play then will be followed by the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game.
If Spencer gets to play, she’ll be expected to apply tight defense. It’s why she’s on the team.
Said Mike: “I told the coach, ‘If you’re looking for Spencer to come in and shoot the lights out for your team, that’s not what you’re getting.’
“And she said, ‘I got shooters. I love man-to-man tight defense. She’s going to do just fine.’ ”
Ayers must believe it. She’s already talked to Spencer’s parents about her playing next year for Team USA at the Pan American Games and the following year at the Deaflympics.
Her ultimate goal?
To hear our national anthem.