Deaf Nebraska high school wrestler accuses state, official of discrimination in title match

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The American Civil Liberties Union officially accused the Nebraska School Activities Association of discrimination this week after a state referee allegedly denied a wrestler a state championship in February.

Former Gering High School wrestler Paul Ruff made it to the state championship match earlier this year. Ruff, who is deaf, relied on lipreading as his primary form of communication during matches. 

But during that championship match, the ACLU said, the NSAA knowingly assigned the only referee who wore a mask to work Ruff’s match.

"Because Paul could not heed the verbal warnings, [the referee] issued a caution point, which, combined with an earlier caution point, awarded Paul's opponent one full point. As a result, Paul lost the match 0-1," wrote representatives from the ACLU and the National Association of the Deaf, via ABC News.

The ACLU said that Ruff had never wrestled in a match before in his career where an official either wore a mask at all or wore one that wasn’t see-through. The ACLU also said that the official knew that Ruff used lipreading as his “primary means of communication” before the match. 

The NSAA has said that Ruff gave the official a thumbs up before the match, which they took to mean he understood the official’s gestures. Ruff, though, later said that he made the thumbs up gesture to ask the official if he was following his directives, per the report.

Ruff has been deaf since birth and wears a cochlear implant to help him hear, though he doesn't compete with it.

"I didn't understand why because I didn't know what was going on,” Ruff told KLKN about the moment the match was called in March. “I saw the point and didn't understand why he got the point.

"I was crushed by it. That was probably one of the worst ways possible to lose for me."

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