There was a churro stand not far from the arena in Brazil, and Valencia Fontenelle-Posson '25 would get the same churro every day. It was delicious. But, nothing tasted better than the gold.
The Deaflympics are a quadrennial multi-sport competition, sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, for deaf athletes competing at an elite level. The first event was held in France in 1924 and this May, the games were held in South America for the first time. Team USA constructed its roster from the most talented group of hearing impaired basketball players in the country of all ages. Fontenelle-Posson – who completed her freshmen season with Siena in March – was surprised when her phone rang.
The coaches scoured the country looking for new, hearing impaired players to compete with the pool of returners. Fontenelle-Posson assumes someone found an article written about her basketball accomplishments (with a note about her hearing loss) and reached out. She was invited to try out at the Maryland School for the Deaf. Almost 40 players participated in the audition, but only 14 made the final roster and earned a spot in Brazil. Fontenelle-Posson was the youngest to make Team USA (she won't turn 19 until August).
"It felt great representing USA. It felt like a dream come true, honestly. I always wanted to take basketball to the next level. That's one of the steps. It was just a blessing."
Fontenelle-Posson scored 19 points in an opening-game win over Lithuania and, several wins later, helped the U.S. secure gold in a victory over Italy.
"It was different playing with older players. The game is the same, though. Basketball is a universal language."
The experience forced Fontenelle-Posson to brush up on a language other than basketball, American Sign Language. Fontenelle-Posson had no trouble hearing at birth, but she suffered significant and frequent ear infections as a child. By the time she was seven, she started to lose her hearing in both ears. While her hearing is impaired, it's not lost, and it's amplified by the hearing aid she wears in her right ear. But, at the deaflympics, aids aren't allowed, so ASL was the only form of communication with her teammates, on and off the court.
"When I first started playing basketball, it was easier. But the level of basketball is so much better now. It's a faster pace, there's always something happening. It's important to hear every detail. My teammates and coaches at Siena make sure I never miss anything."
Fontenelle-Posson averaged nearly five points in 18 minutes per game as a Siena freshman. She's excited to start building on what the Saints accomplished in their first season under their new head coach. Jim Jabir is just as excited to have the gold medalist back for her sophomore season.
“Valencia is a ball of competitive energy. Her motor is always running so high. She’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever been around and it’s natural. While Valencia does a great job of reading lips we try to speak facing her. If she can’t see you it can be a problem from distance. Valencia works so hard and when her skill matches up with her energy and work ethic, she will be a very good player and contributor. So glad she’s in our family.”
Jim Jabir, women's basketball head coach