The Sound of Silence: No Problem

By Matthew Schwartz
February 15, 2024

You know the sound, and if you’re like me, you love it. That sound the ball makes when the paddle hits it. It’s a sound that 52-year-old Billy Mauldin has never heard.

Mauldin is a hell of a pickleball player. He just happens to be deaf.

“We can feel the ball off the paddle and know immediately if we hit the sweet spot or not,” Mauldin said in an email. “Not hearing it isn’t a hindrance at all. It doesn’t matter. I can’t speak for everyone, but you can’t miss something if you never had it your whole life. We can feel it, which is even better. Remember, if one sense is missing, all other senses are heightened or even better!”

Mauldin doesn’t miss the sweet spot very often. The resident of Brooklyn, Wisconsin has a DUPR (Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating) of 4.3 in doubles and 4.1 in singles. He’s endorsed by a company that sells paddles, the first deaf player, he says, to be asked to do so.

Mauldin also volunteers to help run tournaments. The Baltimore native was the assistant director for the National Deaf Pickleball Tournament in Florida in 2022. He devoted his time although he couldn’t play. His right arm was in a sling after slipping in the shower. He landed on his back, broke his left shoulder and tore four ligaments in his right shoulder. He underwent surgery, rested for months, and his rehabilitation was directed by a University of Wisconsin team doctor.

When Mauldin returned to playing, he couldn’t play with his right arm. So he learned to play left-handed. Of course. While playing with his opposite hand his doubles rating was 4.0.

Mauldin fits in his playing and volunteering while working full-time, as the telecommunications director for the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

Mauldin says there are more than 2,000 deaf pickleball players in the US. Just like players who can hear, the number of deaf players grows daily. Mauldin loves everything about the sport and would like hearing players to know a few things about playing with deaf partners.

Regarding keeping track of the score during a game, Mauldin says, “All my hearing friends know how to sign the numbers.” He’d like hearing players everywhere to learn how to sign the score. Most of the signs use the same fingers we normally hold up.

“Also, they [his hearing playing partners] know it is worthless to yell ‘Out.’ I wear hearing aids and can hear them but I don’t listen. For players new to playing with me, I simply tell them that I already made my decision on whether the ball is out or not before you even yell.” Mauldin ended that last sentence with a smiling emoji. In other words, he sees quickly whether the ball is in or out, he doesn’t need to anyone to yell it. 

Ben Coleman has been an athlete since he was a child. He played football, basketball and baseball in high school in Ohio and in college at Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C. Coleman, 31, started playing pickleball five years ago. He’s a 5.1 player, and he’s also deaf.

Coleman has medaled in three Deaflympics and Deaf World Cup Basketball Championships around the world. 

Coleman works at the Maryland School for the Deaf-Columbia Campus, and he’s a busy guy. He’s a physical education teacher, assistant athletic director, and coaches basketball, baseball and volleyball. He is also a pickleball coach and trainer in Frederick, Maryland.  

Coleman stresses the importance of inclusion for deaf pickleball players. He said, “My vision is to build a bridge of access for the hearing and deaf community to unite and connect for all to enjoy the game.”

Coleman hopes that interpreters with pickleball knowledge can be developed and that hearing players learn to use basic sign language during games, to help communication with their playing partners. In what I think is a brilliant idea, Coleman would like closed captioning added to online instructional videos.

Damian Spillner is a 39-year-old deaf pickleball player who lives in Riverside, CA.  He has a DUPR of 4.58 in doubles, 4.62 in singles. Damian says hearing players, “should know how to score from 1-11 or 1-15 in American Sign Language.”

Spillner and Coleman, like Mauldin, have also landed endorsement deals with big paddle selling companies.

On a personal note, I’m a 3.5 player and partnered once with a deaf player in Asheville, NC. She was visiting from Pittsburgh, PA. We played on the same doubles team and when I served she either read my lips or I held up the score with my fingers, but she always knew the score without my help. She was one of the most fun partners I’ve played with and together we kicked the other team’s butts.

I later played against her and it wasn’t great fun. She kicked my butt.

(For more information on deaf pickleball players and clubs, go to: