IM this article to a friend!

January 18, 2004

Confidence in the cards with school's new club

From: Press-Enterprise, CA - Jan 18, 2004

EXTREME MAGICIANS: Deaf school students build self-esteem and skills.

By JACQUIE PAUL / The Press-Enterprise

RIVERSIDE - Eight-year-old Ashley Hernandez holds up a rope and shows it to a small audience gathered in a room at California School for the Deaf, Riverside.

She pauses to look at 10-year-old Anthony Rivera, then turns back to the audience and begins to sign. An interpreter relates what Ashley's hands are saying: "We're going to take this rope and we're going to put it right through his neck!"

Ashley and 10-year-old Nicole Strom gleefully put the rope around Anthony's neck and start pulling. Then, with a snap of their wrists, they break the rope free. It appears as though it has slid through Anthony's neck. Ashley and Nicole grin as the audience applauds. Anthony also smiles and rubs his neck to show he is unharmed.

The magical trio belongs to the seven-member "Extreme Magicians" club at the school. The club, started in September, aims to build self-esteem, inspire community involvement and possibly even lead to show-business careers. CSDR is the first residential deaf school in the United States to start such a club, Superintendent Harold Kund said.

Those who attend performances often pay little attention to the students' disabilities because they are so interested in the magic tricks, said Farley Warshaw, the school's director of residential life.

"People don't even know the difference, whether they're deaf or hearing," Warshaw said through a sign-language interpreter. "They see the magic first. They see the deafness second."

Kund said the club is a way to demonstrate the abilities of deaf or hard-of-hearing students.

"I think this is one clear demonstration that our students have the potential to achieve the same as any student," he said.

Some may even become great magicians, said Sammy Ruiz, an award-winning magician and CSDR alumnus.

"That's my belief," he said through an interpreter. Magical beginnings

Ruiz said he enjoys working with youngsters because he was just 6 when he became interested in magic. But it was a hobby he had to hide for many years; some relatives dissuaded him from practicing magic for fear he might lure evil spirits.

But that was not enough to keep Ruiz from pursuing his interest. He read books, went to magic conventions and even tried to skip Sunday morning church services to see magic shows. He loved card tricks the most.

As an adult, Ruiz attended Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where he studied accounting. But the numbers he really wanted to work with were those on a deck of cards. He convinced his parents to send him to magic school instead, and they agreed. Ruiz attended the school - the location of which Ruiz claims is top secret.

He then went on to perform around the world, competing in deaf and hearing magic competitions, garnering first- and second-place awards. He plans to go for a top award at the World Deaf Magicians Festival in Germany in March.

Ruiz also wants to share his gift with the students chosen to participate in Extreme Magicians. The tricks Ruiz shares with the youngsters are so top secret, he made each child sign a contract promising not to reveal what was learned.

A special talent

Students in the Extreme Magicians club enjoy showing their talents for local groups.

"I feel really proud, and my parents are really proud of me, too," Nicole said through an interpreter.

After receiving applause at a performance for the Riverside Chamber of Commerce last year, 12-year-old Chris Rivera said, "I was so proud of myself I wanted to have a heart attack. I saw a lot of them (audience members) with their mouths open. I wanted to help them close them."

Some of the students say the club is just a hobby for now.

"I'm just enjoying it," 18-year-old Patrick Banegas said through an interpreter.

Banegas said the club also helps him focus.

"My attitude is real good," he said. "When I do the magic and I'm practicing and practicing and practicing, I have to put my mind on one thing. I put all distractions aside."

Others, like Chris, hope to pursue careers in magic.

"I want to be like him," he said, motioning to a poster of magician David Copperfield.

The Extreme Magicians plan to perform about nine more shows this spring, Ruiz said.

Those interested in attending the shows, or those who would like the group to come to a community function can get more information by calling the school at (909) 782-6500 or e-mailing Ruiz at or Warshaw

Reach Jacquie Paul at (909) 368-9472 or

© 2004 Belo Interactive Inc.