By Greg Gelpi
A flash on a screen sends hands feverishly whirling about, deftly forming words. The Jonesboro High School Deaf Quiz Bowl Team surprised competition from its inception, and now the team is bound for Washington D.C. to compete for the national title.
The team of Kaitlin Pate, Kassie Fields, Jimmy Bush and Deco Porter narrowly fell four points shy of winning the southeast regional championship, but claimed second place of 16 teams, enough to advance to the nationals.
Jonesboro will compete in the eighth annual National High School Academic Bowl for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students at Gallaudet University April 23-27.
The top two teams from each of five regions will vie for the title.
With coach Cathy Belew speaking aloud the signs of coach Trent Wade, the students rapidly buzzed in and fired off answers during one of the team's four weekly practices this week.
Belew also serves as a sign interpreter for the team and the school.
"I think we're ready for the challenge," Porter said.
The chance for a national championship is the culmination of years of work for Porter and Pate, two members of Jonesboro High's first deaf quiz bowl team.
"It's kind of a dream come true," said Pate, the reigning Miss Deaf Georgia. "We've been working for four years and we're finally where we want to be."
The Jonesboro team was the first deaf quiz bowl team to compete from a mainstream high school and is the first team from Georgia to compete in the national event, Belew said.
"We're just like hearing people," Fields said. "We don't even think about being deaf. We're actually very proud of being deaf."
The team has done well in competition in each of its first four years, Wade said. Last year, the team finished fourth in the regional quiz bowl.
"We're over the hump this year," Wade said.
The team has also succeeded in impressing other teams. For the second consecutive year, Jonesboro High earned the sportsmanship award as voted on by other teams and coaches.
Each member brings an area of expertise, be it history or pop culture, to answer a variety of questions.
"I think the secret is team work," Porter said. "You have to work on your weak areas. We try to work together to even each other out."
In addition to the usual academic bowl subjects, deaf quiz bowl teams must answer questions about deaf history and spell answers correctly. Teams are able to "steal" a question when a word is misspelled.
"They have to speed read and answer questions," Belew said.
Questions are flashed on a screen using PowerPoint, rather than spoken aloud as in a typical quiz bowl, she said.
"It's the best of the best that are going to compete in April," Wade said. "I think the point of the academic quiz bowl is to have pride. This year has been so satisfying because we were so close (at regionals)."