By Mike Marsee
At this competition, it’s all in the cards.
As soon as one of the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) students submits an answer, every eye in the room turns to the judge, who holds the 8-1/2-by-11-inch cards reading “yes” and “no” – and their fate – in his hands.
The nervous seconds spent waiting to see which card the judge would hold up provided some of the most anxious moments for competitors in the Gallaudet University Academic Bowl Southeast Regional, which KSD hosted last weekend.
The students faced a gauntlet of eight matches in two days in which they were quizzed on everything from science and literature to current events and pop culture. The competition was not easy, not with berths in Gallaudet’s national competition on the line.
“It depends on the question,” KSD senior Bethany Yance said. “Sometimes it’s hard, but mostly it depends on general knowledge of everything we’ve learned from school and out in the real world.”
But it wasn’t all high anxiety for these high school students. The event featured 18 teams of four players each from 11 states and the District of Columbia. There was ample opportunity for kids who typically have a very small circle of friends – KSD has only about 40 high school students – to make new acquaintances.
“The fact that we have 18 different schools here from all over the Southeast is pretty cool, and a lot of them become friends after big events like this,” said KSD Outreach Director Wilton McMillan. “I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many of them become lifelong friends at events like this. Our deaf community is so small, but large in that way.”
Yance said she was making friends at this event whom she’ll see again when she goes to college.
“In the fall I’ll be going to Gallaudet, and these teams, maybe they have seniors who are going to Gallaudet in the fall, too. So it gives me a chance to get to know them before I actually go to campus so we can hang out together once we get up to the university,” she said.
The KSD students got the chance to meet and compete in familiar surroundings, as the school hosted an Academic Bowl regional for the first time in its 20-year history.
“This is our home and we probably have more fans here than other states,” KSD junior Nia Ralston said.
Preparations for last weekend’s event started long ago. Practices started last fall for the students, including some alternates who didn’t get to compete.
“Thirty minutes, every day,” Ralston said.
The students sharpened their skills using QuizUp, a mobile trivia app that requires players to give rapid answers to general-knowledge questions and allows them to challenge other players around the world.
“And we do PowerPoints, and all sorts of online games,” said Kimmie Curtis, one of two coaches for the KSD team.
There was also a practice match held via video conference with an Academic Bowl team from Pennsylvania.
“Hopefully next year we can do a couple more (practice matches) and reach out to some other schools as well,” Curtis said.
While the students were practicing, the school was making sure it was ready to host the event, which brought 68 students and their coaches to the Danville campus. KSD was scheduled to host a regional competition last year, but it was canceled following a snowstorm.
“It’s a great thing for the school,” said Lee Alan Roher, one of KSD’s coaches.
Several Gallaudet staff members oversee each regional event, and Gallaudet President Bobbi Cordano visited the campus on Saturday. McMillan said there also were about 120 volunteers, many of whom were KSD staff and faculty members.
Each match took about 35 to 45 minutes and consisted of three rounds: a quick recall round in which students rang in, then wrote down their answers; an individual round in which players answer questions in rotation; and a collaborative round in which the players team up to answer 10 questions in two minutes.
“The first round is the hardest. It’s so fast; I don’t like it,” KSD senior Quanchen Warmack said.
Roher coached academic teams in Governor’s Cup competitions at other Kentucky schools, and she said she didn’t fully grasp this format until after she had watched the first couple of matches.
“The format of this competition is so much different than the Governor’s Cup, so it’s nice to see the format of what’s going to happen,” she said.
While Roher observed, Curtis took notes on the types of questions the KSD students answered correctly and incorrectly.
“I’m paying attention to what questions they’re missing and what questions they’re getting correct, and I’m also making notes on what types of questions might be areas of growth for them and things we can incorporate into practices,” Curtis said.
The coaches can huddle with their players during breaks between rounds, but they must be silent during the competition.
“It’s hard, especially when you see something and you know they should know what that is, and none of them are buzzing and none of them have picked up a pencil,” Curtis said. “That’s probably the hardest part.”
KSD won three matches and lost five, and two of its losses were by five points or less. The top four teams advanced to nationals; KSD wasn’t among them, but Curtis said that doesn’t mean her students didn’t win.
“They’re getting the opportunity to represent their school in something that they choose to come to,” she said. “These kids come out because they’re interested, and they excel because they’re putting the work into it. So when they get questions right and they win a match, that’s the end goal. The prize is in their hand there.”
Teams came from public schools such as Rockville (Md.) High School, which won the competition, and from schools for the deaf such as Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, which took second place. McMillan said mixing deaf and hard-of-hearing students from different backgrounds is an important part of the event.
“One kid who was from a public school had never been to a residential school before this weekend. I think it’s important that kids have every opportunity to see all of the kids from around the region, because many of them have never had that experience until they participate in an event like this,” he said.
Between and beyond the matches, there was time for players to visit with Gallaudet admissions officials – the university uses the competition as a recruiting tool – and to get to know each other through scheduled social activities and opportunities to simply hang out.
Senior Jonathan Demaree, a four-year member of KSD’s team, looked forward to that as much as the matches.
“Just meeting other people is the best part,” Demaree said.
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Kimmie Curtis email@example.com
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Wilton McMillan email@example.com