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January 25, 2004

Schools for deaf compete

From: Jackson Clarion Ledger - Jan 25, 2004

By Gloria Butler Baldwin
Special to The Clarion-Ledger

Students at the Mississippi School for the Deaf proved Saturday that you don't have to yell to be a cheerleader.

Without hearing a beat of the music or uttering a sound, the six girls, ages 14 and 15, made pyramids, cheered in sign language and danced to a well-studied count in a cheerleading competition at Millsaps College in Jackson.

The deaf cheerleaders' competition was part of the weekendlong Mason-Dixon Basketball Tournament that matched up 12 schools for the deaf from 11 Southeastern states.

Although the Mississippi team didn't place, Lynn Cox, coordinator for the cheerleading competition, said she is very proud of them.

"The competition has been part of this tournament for about 15 years, but this is only our second year to participate," Cox said. "We didn't even have cheerleaders before last year."

Tiffany Portie, a teacher at the Mississippi School for the Deaf off Eastover Drive and head cheerleading coach, said she tries to make people understand that cheering is more than simultaneously yelling and moving to a beat.

"We have to do one or the other. We don't always have words to go with our cheers. Some schools do add some voice if they can, but we don't have voice with ours," Portie said.

Angie Tharpe, 15, a ninth-grader from Clinton, has been a Mississippi School for the Deaf cheerleader for two years.

It's hard to cheer and to be deaf, Tharpe signed. "Our coach counts for us, and we follow her," she said. "I can feel the floor (vibrate to the music)."

Heidi Camacho, the cheerleading team assistant coach of the Louisiana School for the Deaf in Baton Rouge, brought just three girls to compete in Saturday's tournament. And for the third straight year, the girls who danced without hearing a sound to Let's Get Ready to Rumble won first place.

The second-place winner was Tennessee's School for the Deaf; third place went to the Florida team.

"We practice many, many, many hours to look like that. They can't hear anything," Camacho said.

Said Cox: "We're proud we got a chance to host the games. They rotate, so we won't have the tournament again for 11 years."

Copyright © 2004, The Clarion-Ledger.