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July 31, 2004

Deaf games are full of champs

From: Louisville Courier Journal, KY - Jul 31, 2004

Sports events draw 165 youths from across nation

By Jennifer Frazer
The Courier-Journal

From the sidelines at the University of Louisville's Cardinal Park, the only noticeable difference between this soccer match and any other is the lack of chatter — at least audible chatter.

The athletes, participants in the Deaf Youth Sports Festival, sign back and forth during the games. And they clap and cheer as heartily as any team when a goal is scored or an ace served.

There are a few subtle differences, however, said Tammy Clements, the age-group coordinator for the elementary school children.

"The whistle is no good," she said. "We have to wave to stop the kids."

And a drum signals the start of track events — the athletes can feel the vibrations.

Clements said the best thing about the festival, which began Sunday and ends today, is that the youths find out there are others just like them.

"I see that the kids love it," she said. "If I run into them somewhere else, they tell me, 'I can't wait till (the festival) gets here!'"

"I've always loved it here," Carrie St. Cyr said through an interpreter. She began competing when she was 6, and this is her 10th year. "We work together, and no one's left behind."

In 2001, Carrie was elected and crowned Ms. Olympian. Each year, Mr. and Ms. Olympian carry the torch during the opening ceremony.

"I like it here," Terris Hazzard, 15, of Muncie, Ind., said through an interpreter about his first year of participation. "We play around. I've made many new friends. I'm learning a lot of skills and having a lot of fun."

The festival's founder is Tim Owens, 48, who was bored in the summer growing up because he was told that, because he couldn't hear, he couldn't be involved in sports.

So in 1983, Owens, who teaches American Sign Language at the University of Louisville, founded an event that would become the Deaf Youth Sports Festival.

It started as a day camp, with seven participants and a budget of $75. Today the event has grown so large it is housed at UofL, draws about 165 participants from across the country and commands a budget of $90,000. The money comes from private donors, the WHAS Crusade for Children and the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

"I had no idea how popular this would become," Owens said through an interpreter.

With dozens of sporting events and activities crammed into seven days, there's little danger of boredom. The events include volleyball, soccer, bowling, basketball, swimming, discus and long and high jumps.

Jelynn Louis, 13, who was part of a middle school volleyball team that won its match earlier this week, says she loves the festival. She could hear when she was born, but at age 3 she contracted meningitis and lost the ability to hear, see and walk.

"I am thankful to God because I can walk and see again," she said through an interpreter, "but He kept me deaf."

Now she attends Brentwood (Mo.) Middle School and ice skates in her spare time.

Brandon Graves, 16, will be a sophomore at duPont Manual High School and has been participating for five years. He wants to study meteorology in college, he hopes in Kansas City, where he can see exotic weather up close.

He helped name his team, "The Tornado Team," which uses its name to intimidate the competition: They gestured, "Warning: we will beat you."

Copyright 2004 The Courier-Journal.