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April 25, 2005

Students flex brain power

From: Colorado Springs Gazette - Colorado Springs,CO,USA - Apr 25, 2005


WASHINGTON - They outsmarted teams from Alabama and Florida. They outwitted triviasavvy Illinois.

But as the sun set on the nation's capital Sunday, the future was uncertain for five Colorado Springs teens defending a national championship in the deaf community's biggest academic contest of the year.

The National High School Academic Bowl for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is, for hundreds of teenagers, the equivalent of March Madness, the Super Bowl or the National Spelling Bee.

In it, students test their knack for amassing general knowledge and recalling it in seconds. Regional competitions this year netted 10 teams from nearly 80 nationwide. The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind was one of two from the West.

The 10 teams are going brain-to-brain in the two-day national championship, which ends today.

"Can't seem to get past you guys," said Robert Grindrod, a deaf interpreter and coach for Illinois' John Hersey High School, after Colorado beat his team by 3 points — the same margin as last year.

During part of the competition, questions appear on a screen in the middle of the room. The first team whose member pushes a buzzer gets the first shot at writing an answer.

The Colorado students — Amy Flynn, Tye Lovato, Austin Balaich, Catherine Worrell and Sam Harris — had spent hours each week of the school year cramming their heads with facts about anything from deaf studies to math and literature.

They practiced speed reading in an effort to be the first to buzz in.

When they left for D.C. Thursday, teachers and their fellow students wrote goodluck messages on their game T-shirts.

Sunday's win over Illinois was the local team's third straight, but it would prove to be the day's last.

As Lovato and Colorado coach Pat O'Hara used personal computer organizers to send text messages back home, Harris was leery of what was to come.

"You can't obsess," Harris signed to his teammates after the match. "You've got to carry on."

Minutes later, he and the others sat uncomfortably as their next opponents, from Roosevelt High School in Seattle, methodically answered question after question. The school, which beat Colorado in the regionals this year in Utah, won 57-26.

The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind next played Monroe No. 1 BOCES, of New York.

Flynn, who in addition to being deaf is almost totally blind, was quick to identify the book "The Prince and the Pauper" for 2 points. Because of her near-blindness, she was allowed to view the questions on a computer screen inches from her face.

Lovato, who loves to read of other cultures, picked up 2 more by knowing that Finlanders refer to their country as Suomi.

After three rounds of quizzing, though, Monroe took the match. The quiet room erupted with applause from the opposing team's families.

"What a super win," a woman said as she left, noting Colorado's reputation.

The Colorado team, with a 3-2 record after Sunday's competition, will play four more regional champs today. After every team plays each other, the top four teams will match wits for first through fourth place.

Students who shine during the matches stand strong chances of getting scholarships to Gallaudet University, the world's only liberal arts university specifically for the deaf, and the Academic Bowl host and sponsor.

Despite the stakes, the students value friends more than wins. The loss to Roosevelt didn't stop the team from exchanging hugs and a few laughs with their opponents. After all, a few hours later it would be time for the mixer.


They live in a world of silent conversations. Five teens at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind are bound by a language of gestures and expressions.

But deafness, they will show you, is no excuse for a quiet life. They're preparing for the prom, graduation and college. Some play sports.

As other teens gab on cell phones, these five type text messages and send e-mails on pocketsized digital devices.

Now they're in Washington, D.C., competing in the ninth National High School Academic Bowl for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

This Sunday, The Gazette tells the stories of Amy Flynn, Tye Lovato, Sam Harris, Austin Balaich and Catherine Worrell.

Copyright 2005, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved.