Team Huddles Between rounds of a Feb. 15 game in Riverside Calif.

Academic Bowl Gives Deaf Teens a Rare Opportunity

Whether it’s playing on their high school football, basketball, baseball, swimming or another sports club, deaf teens have a decent chance to compete in athletic activities. When it comes to academic competitions however, many of those same teens find themselves on the back-burner.

For the most part.

A lot of deaf teens find it hard to compete in academic competitions because those competitions usually involve the ability to hear and /or debate. Sign language can be used, but it may be harder to follow along that way due to the quick tempo of the game.

Sponsored by Gallaudet University, the Academic Bowl gives deaf teens around the U.S. an opportunity to compete against each other in the hopes of establishing networks and improving their self-confidence.

“Deaf teens, especially those from smaller mainstream programs or from smaller residential programs, often have very little interaction with other deaf teens,” Said Jesse Saunders, Youth Program and Outreach Coordinator at Gallaudet University. “The Academic Bowl gives them an opportunity to meet other bright young deaf people like them and start networking for the future.”

The tournament is specially designed for deaf teens. The questions are displayed on a large screen instead of read aloud. Teams buzz in to answer and those answers are displayed on the screen. All games are played in total silence. Each player and coach uses American Sign Language to introduce themselves before every match.

The competition is divided into five regions around the country. The top four teams from each region and four additional teams with the next highest scores are invited to compete in the national championship on the Gallaudet University campus in Washington D.C. Those 24 teams compete to become the national champion over a course of rounds.

A match consists of two teams competing against each other over a course of three rounds. Each round features a different way a team can answer questions. The categories range from science and technology, to deaf studies. Each team can have a maximum of four players and all those players must belong to a school or program that is recognized for teaching deaf or hard of hearing students.

Although the Academic Bowl has been in existence since 1997, this year, according to Saunders, is the most competitive yet, given there is no clear-cut favorite—something that hasn’t been the case before. The national tournament will take place April 5-7.

Gallaudet University, a university that is designed for the deaf and hard of hearing, hopes that students who participate in the Academic Bowl become interested in attending college. Gallaudet’s representatives, including the university’s president attend most regional tournament matches and a presentation about Gallaudet University is shown to teams and families during the lunch break of the final day of each regional. Saunders says the mission is to simply spark a deaf high school student’s interest in college, even if it isn’t Gallaudet University.
Overall, Saunders says that the goal of the tournament is not only to increase confidence for the deaf student, but is to also increase awareness of the deaf community as a whole and show the hearing community that if given a chance, deaf students can prove to be just as intelligent as everyone else.

“It teaches the hearing community that deaf teens are just as bright as hearing teens,” Saunders said. “I challenge them to come to a Regional competition and try to answer some of the questions that our deaf teens answer.”

But when people come to watch the tournament, they may leave frustrated and disappointed.

“Some of them buzz in very quickly and many in the audience remark that they didn’t even have a chance to read the first few words,” Saunders said with a smile.

Additional Information

• More information about the 2014 Academic bowl can be found here.

•You can follow the action on the Academic Bowl’s Facebook page and on Twitter.
• For a list of all 24 teams that made it to the national championship, click here.
• The championship and third-place games will be streamed live on the Bowl’s website on April 7 at 6:15 p.m. EST.
• Highlights from the 2012 Academic Bowl can be seen in the video below. A transcription of the video can be found on Youtube.


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