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June 19, 2003

A piece of quiet

From: Aurora Sentinel, CO - Jun 19, 2003

By: Jim Kehl, The Aurora Sentinel

While city planners scurry to put a shiny new face on the old section of Colfax Avenue in northwest Aurora, a small, private club has quietly struggled with its own revitalization, oblivious to the din surrounding it.

The Silent Athletic Club has given Denver's deaf and hard-of-hearing community a place to meet, to socialize and - most importantly - to play sports for more than 60 years.

But its membership is shrinking, and its founding members are concerned about the future.

Thirteen friends held the club's first meeting in the Denver YMCA building in 1944 amid the gas and food rations of World War II.

They started a softball team, a basketball team and a bowling league and have competed against both deaf and hearing teams ever since.

Fred Schmidt and Don Warnick are two of the club's original members.

During a weekly Tuesday afternoon poker meeting, they sat at one of the club's crowded tables and described the club's glories as L. Ron Faucett, another long-time member, translated their quick signs.

They've watched the club grow over the years, then shrink as deaf people have become increasingly "mainstreamed."

"It used to be that deaf people went to deaf schools, but now they're mainstreaming," Schmidt said. "They don't associate together as much."

Schmidt went to a school for the deaf in Colorado Springs. The school Warnick attended in Utah has closed.

"It's getting smaller because of mainstreaming," Warnick said. "It's the same problem all over the United States."

There are about 5,500 deaf people in the Denver area, according to the Denver Commission for People with Disabilities.

The club still boasts about 130 deaf and hard of hearing members ages 18 to 32 years old, but Warnick said there were many more a long time ago.

"Today, we have a few good young people, but not enough," he said. "We are concerned about the future. Too many young people are afraid to meet with older people."

Many of the members worked for decades before technologies such as tele-type phones and text pagers made telephone communication possible.

"My hearing brother would translate boxing matches for me on the radio," Schmidt said.

Warnick worked for 46 years as a printing press operator and Schmidt spent 42 years at Samsonite.

They put a lot of effort into building the club and keeping it alive, moving it to several locations around Denver.

"We had a hard time raising the money for our second place," Warnick said. "We'd hold parties, gather donations; sometimes we'd donate our own money."

In 1996, after 10 years without a home, the Silent Athletic Club finally came to rest in Aurora in the old American Legion building at 1575 Elmira St.

The club members worked as volunteers selling beer and food during ball games at Coors Field to pay off the building.

Over the years, the club has produced winning teams. Two years ago, the women's softball team came in first in the National Softball Association of the Deaf. Last year, they came in second.

"Fred used to be one of the top bowlers in Denver during the '60s and '70s," Warnick said. "He averaged 199."

Schmidt, a Denver bowling association hall-of-famer, didn't deny it. He used a rubber ball then, and he'd probably average 200-230 today, he said.

"I bowl better than him," Warnick joked.

The bowling teams have grown older, but few young bowlers have filled in.

"We have good members and we have sports to play," Warnick said. "But it's the people who are older than 50 keep this club running."

©Aurora Sentinel 2003