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February 16, 2007

No buzzers, but teamwork at this academic bowl

From: Atlanta Journal Constitution - Atlanta,GA,USA - feb 16, 2007

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/16/07

Despite the intensity of the moment, the room was silent.

Students watched intently as questions flashed on a screen. There was no yelling of answers in rapid-fire succession. Instead, these students, all deaf or hard-of-hearing, signed answers to one another.

After each question appeared, students huddled with teammates. They took turns signing, each saying what he or she thought was the correct answer, until all were in agreement. Finally, they wrote down their answers for the judges.

The students were competing Friday in the Southeast Regional High School Academic Bowl for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students, a competition held this year at Berkmar High in Lilburn.

Sixteen schools from across the Southeast — including six from the metro Atlanta area — took part. The top two teams will be announced Saturday evening. They will join winners from four other regional competitions at the championship in Washington, D.C., in April.

Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C., liberal arts college dedicated to the deaf and hard of hearing, created the event in 1997 to give hearing impaired high school students a chance to compete. It is the only nationwide academic competition of its kind, said Chachie Joseph, competition coordinator.

Students say the event is more than just another academic bowl.

"I like the opportunity to compete against my friends and then I meet new friends because we after the competitions, we chat," said Abigail Wooddall, a member of the team from the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, speaking through a sign language interpreter. "It is so much fun because your adrenaline is going and your energy is so high and your brain is moving so fast because you're trying to get the right answer."

The event typically is hosted by a school for the deaf. Berkmar High is the first traditional public school to host the Southeast regional competition, Joseph said.

Berkmar High teaches about 25 students who are hearing impaired, said Eva Parks, coordinator of special education programs for Gwinnett County's public schools. Berkmar worked for about two years to host the competition, Parks said. Representatives from Gallaudet University visited Berkmar before agreeing to let the school serve as a host.

"It's pretty neat because we are a public school and normally we have to go somewhere else to compete," said Tiffany Slieff, a member of Berkmar's team, speaking through a sign language interpreter. "But I'm just so excited to see my old friends and make new ones. And I want us to win, of course."

The event is a series of tournaments in which two teams compete by answering questions in different categories, such as math, literature, history, sports and current events.

Each match has three rounds and lasts about 45 minutes. The first round features 15 toss-up questions, each answered by the player who buzzes in first. During the second round, pairs of students, one from each team, answer a question. The final round is a 10-part question that students discuss and answer as a team.

Berkmar High won its first match of the day Friday against the Tennessee School for the Deaf.

Greg Owen, the head coach for the Berkmar team and a teacher at the school, beamed over the victory. He congratulated the students, then quickly got back to work.

He herded them to a corner and signed instructions about how they could improve. Watch capitalization when writing answers, he told them. Listen to the entire question before you jump in with an answer.

The students stood in semicircle around their coach. They signed explanations for their actions and apologies for their mistakes.

Mostly, they stared at Owen, silently taking in his commands. They had more matches to win.

© 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution