This past weekend, New England Deaf Disc Golf held its 20th annual Deaf Island tournament at Edgartown’s Riverhead Field Disc Golf Course. Deaf men, women, and children from across the country flocked to the Vineyard to compete in the tournament, which consisted of more than 10 divisions categorized by gender, age, and skill level.
Played over three days on the expansive course, which features 36 tees and three different course layouts, Deaf Island XX broke the record for the number of competitors with a remarkable 75 registrations, widely eclipsing last year’s record of 48 players.
Founded and put on by Kimberly and Shayan Keramati alongside NEDDG in 2002, the event has experienced massive growth and success since the inaugural tournament, which featured only 14 players. While playing disc golf is the main attraction of the gathering, for many players and organizers, coming to play at the Deaf Island tournament means so much more than just disc golf.
To quote Brittany Bowker’s 2020 MV Times article, “Martha’s Vineyard and sign language go way back.” The Vineyard has been a haven for deaf people since the first deaf English immigrants came to the Island in the late 17th century — deaf man Jonathan Lambert, his wife, and their seven deaf children, who communicated using a regional sign language from their hometown of Kent which evolved over time into Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL). In the early 18th century, the deaf population continued to grow, especially in Chilmark — in 1710, the town had a deafness concentration of 1 in every 25 people, and according to a 2015 Atlantic article, “somewhere closer to 25 in 25 knew how to sign.” Over the years, MVSL slowly died off, with the last signer dying in 1952, but it remains an important part of the Island’s cultural history, and was a driving force behind NEDDG choosing the Vineyard for one of its first events.
When Shayan Keramati, David Good, and Corey Driscoll — three deaf and avid disc golfers — founded NEDDG in 2002, Martha’s Vineyard struck them as the perfect place for one of their first tournaments. According to Shayan’s wife Kimberly, they wanted to set up a tournament here “because of the Island’s deaf history and strong deaf culture. Martha’s Vineyard used to have a very high deaf population where everyone spoke sign language, and so Shayan and I wanted to honor that history with something that can bring deaf people and disc golf enthusiasts together.”
David Good, who helps lead NEDDG in hosting tournaments all across New England, commented on what makes Deaf Island a particularly special event, citing the importance of “being hosted by the same people, year-in year-out, who are committed to emphasizing Martha’s Vineyard’s deaf history.” Over the past 20 years, the Keramati family, Good, Driscoll, and others have worked closely with numerous sponsors and Martha’s Vineyard Disc Golf Club President Jake Gifford to continue to improve and maintain the pristine woodland course, as well as gather the resources necessary for the tournament.
Perhaps even more important to the organizers’ commitment to honoring the Island’s deaf history is the player’s appreciation of such actions, and how they feel it makes the tournament special. Kendra Timko-Hochkeppel of Worcester is not incredibly active as a disc golf player, but has still played in the Deaf Island tournament every year since its inception. An officer of NEDDG, she has come to play in each Deaf Island tournament not only because she “likes the getaway of coming to the Island,” but also due to how she “appreciates the Island’s deaf history.” For Deaf Island veterans such as Timko-Hochkeppel and first-year competitors alike, the Keramati family’s stress on the Vineyard’s deaf culture and history is made clear, and this unique aspect of the event is something that all players are aware of and greatly value.