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January 30, 2004

Deaf cheer squad go for title of the West

From: Tri-Valley Herald, CA - Jan 30, 2004

Fremont team is first deaf squad to qualify

By Jennifer Kho, STAFF WRITER

FREMONT -- Tumbling coach Jennifer Muzio slaps the blue spring-loaded competition floor, creating vibrations to get the cheerleaders' attention.

Heads go up, the cheerleaders watch her fingers and then -- making little noise except for the occasional grunt or laugh -- follow her as far into the splits as they can go.

While the California School for the Deaf basketball team this week is competing against seven other deaf schools in the Western States Basketball Classic tournament, the cheerleading team is preparing for a competition of its own.

The school is playing host to the 24th annual Western States Cheerleading Competition on Saturday, and the Fremont cheer squad is practicing hard to beat its rival, the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, which took first place in the all-deaf competition last year.

"I'm looking forward to winning first place at the deaf competition," said Ian Guzman, 16, a sophomore and one of the team captains. "That's what I want. It's what I really want."

Whether it wins the deaf competition or not, the Fremont school's cheerleading team this year has the distinction of being the first deaf squad ever to qualify for a Universal Spirit Association national competition, and will attend the competition in March.

But while it was much more difficult to get into the national competition, Guzman said he feels more rivalry with the deaf schools than the hearing schools, and is looking forward to Saturday.

"I think it's important to be involved in both," he said. "At hearing competitions, we can show that deaf people can be involved; we prove that deaf people can do these things."

Head cheerleading coach Farrah Nolan, who joined the school two years ago, said most deaf schools don't participate in hearing competitions. Nolan, along with assistant cheerleading coach Laurie Kettle-Rivera, is hearing.

Deaf competitions are different, Nolan said, with teams performing about a minute longer and with smaller squads than in hearing competitions.

But the major difference be-tween hearing and deaf cheerleading is the sound.

Members of the California School for the Deaf's squad can't use their voices, so instead of the loud chants and screams commonly associated with cheerleading, the audience gets throaty, excited noise and emphatic sign language.

They can't hear the music, instead relying on nonverbal cues and silent counting to stay together.

For hearing competitions, the team had to learn to appeal to a hearing audience. Instead of just having a few members sign their rallying message, they also wave orange-and-brown signs spelling out their cheers.

Twice last year, the team entered regional competitions and failed to qualify for nationals -- narrowly missing the second time, said Erin Ross, a senior and the other team captain. In November, half the team qualified in a regional competition in Fresno; the other half qualified at a competition in Antioch two weeks ago.

"I've very excited," Ross said. "It's perfect because it's my last year. We've seen many good teams, and we qualified, so that means we are good, too. In cheerleading, we get to go show off our skills, jump and tumble. We're involved, and it makes me feel good about myself."

Staff writer Jennifer Kho can be reached at (510) 353-7013 .

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