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Born deaf and adopted, Tina Duresky refuses to stay silent

September 15, 2014
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Being a ref isn’t Tina Duresky’s only line of work. She also works alongside a Technician Identification Specialist, powdering and photographing fingerprints and collecting evidence from crime scenes. (Courtesy of Tina Duresky)

By Julie Carlson

In 2012, Tina Reed Duresky, a basketball referee was honored by Governor Janet Brewer with the AZ Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award. Duresky was only deaf person nominated out of 30 people. Standing before the camera flashes made her feel like she was on a red carpet in Hollywood.

Being born deaf has had its challenges for the Arizona resident. But it’s also opened up doors.

Since 2002, Duresky, 44, has worked as a basketball referee and softball umpire for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), as well as a middle school and high school volleyball referee.

Duresky’s love of sports came from her own participation in basketball and softball during school and as an All Star in Little League. However, when a knee injury sidelined her during a basketball game in high school, she decided to become a referee. But this is far from the end of her story.

Born Im Jin-young, she grew up in an orphanage in South Korea. At five years of age, she was adopted by the Reeds who lived in Michigan.

“My family didn’t know I was deaf until a few days after the adoption,” Duresky says. “I was the only deaf girl in a large family of 11 people.”

Duresky was given a new and loving environment with clothes, a bed, and having a family for the first time, but she still struggled.

“It was hard growing up and not being able to communicate for years,” Duresky says.

She was given a hearing aide, but she was only able to hear background noises. So at the age six, she began speech therapy, learning to read lips and to speak. She was the only deaf student at the hearing school in her hometown.

“In 7th grade, I learned American Sign Language,” Duresky says. “American Sign Language is popular for the deaf community all over the United States.”

With the help of hearing students and teachers, her speech and lip reading improved throughout middle and high school.

In 1998, she met her husband, Robert Duresky, who is also deaf, at ‘Signs of Christmas’ in Ohio. ‘Signs of Christmas’ is a special event consisting of around 50 deaf and hearing volunteers who get together for over a month to learn signing about the holiday in ALS.

The couple moved to Arizona in 2001. Later that year, Robert contacted the AIA for Reed to apply to be a referee. Tina got the job. She refs for both hearing and deaf players.

So how does she communicate with players who can hear?

“By speaking and lip reading,” Duresky explains. “I speak to them face to face and with some hand gestures. Some players know basic signs.”

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Tina Duresky (bottom left) recently took part in a basketball camp for the Deaf International Basketball Federation in Taiwan. Over 20 deaf basketball referees from all over the world attended the camp in hopes of being selected to officiate the World Deaf Basketball Tournament, including the World Deaf Olympics. (Courtesy of Tina Duresky)

Since becoming a basketball referee, Duresky has kept quite a busy schedule. She officiates girls and boys high school basketball teams around Phoenix. She also has weekend basketball tournaments for the younger set, officiates for the Special Olympics, basketball camps, basketball tournaments on Native American reservations, as well as adult tournaments for the USA Deaf Basketball organization.

“The best thing about being a referee is whenever a coach or a player is complaining,” Duresky explains. “I first give them a warning. If he or she continues to complain, I give them a, ‘T’ technical foul. Everyone becomes very quiet. And they say ‘Wow, what a tough lady!’”

Recently, Duresky took part in a basketball camp for the Deaf International Basketball Federation in Taiwan. Over 20 deaf basketball referees from all over the world attended the camp in hopes of being selected to officiate the World Deaf Basketball Tournament, including the World Deaf Olympics, and the Deaf Asian and Regional Basketball Tournament.

During the camp, certified interpreters translated from ASL to Taiwanese sign language and vice versa. It was awesome and exciting experience for Duresky. It also brought her closer to her native homeland, which she hasn’t been back to in 39 years.

“I was selected to officiate the World Deaf Basketball Tournament in Taiwan next July,” Duresky says. “I am so happy! There will be 18 deaf men’s teams and 12 deaf women’s teams.”

But being a ref isn’t Duresky’s only line of work. In 2009, she received a degree in Forensic science and Criminal Justice from Phoenix College.

After the economy was hit, she struggled to find a job in law enforcement. A couple of years later, her husband saw an advertisement to volunteer at the City of Avondale Police Department. Duresky was hired as a volunteer Crime Lab Technician. She, currently, works alongside a Technician Identification Specialist, powdering and photographing fingerprints and collecting evidence from crime scenes.

“I enjoy making a difference of helping law enforcement to understand the deaf culture and making a difference for the community,” Duresky says.

She enjoys both of her jobs. Duresky wouldn’t mind one day being employed at a police department, but she loves officiating.

“Being a basketball referee is difficult work because it’s continued focusing and you have to be excellent at officiating,” Duresky explains. “However, I am proud of becoming a successful basketball referee for 13 years. I want to show the hearing world that the deaf can referee games. Communication is the one thing I’m, presently, working on. But I’m thankful that I’ve played basketball for years. I feel basketball is in my blood!’

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