KSD hosts 40th anniversary of Deaf Youth Olympics

Published 11:43 am Monday, July 24, 2023

The Deaf Youth Sports Festival hosted their 40th Anniversary week-long event at Kentucky School for the Deaf from July 9 to 15.

The 200th anniversary of KSD is this year, and as part of its bicentennial celebrations, the sports festival was held at the school, returning after many years in other locations.

The Deaf Youth Sports Festival is a week-long summer camp for Deaf/Hard of Hearing kids ages 5 through seniors in high school. Kids come from all over the country to compete in Olympic-style sporting events.

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Competitions were split into three age groups, elementary age, middle school, and high school age. Each group had color teams with competitions between one another. They competed in multiple games daily, winning medals of gold, silver, and bronze for each event.

Sports included basketball, volleyball, swimming, bowling, pickleball, soccer, and track with individual and team events including long jump, high jump, discus, shot-put and 100 m relay.

KSD 200th anniversary committee member Barbie Harris, who is also on the board of the Deaf Youth Sports Festival, said the camp had 51 participants this year from many different schools, including KSD, Indiana School for the Deaf, Texas Deaf School, schools in Ohio, and many different mainstream public schools with one or two Deaf students.

Harris said they teach kids to not focus too much on winning, but to learn the rules of the game, develop their skills, and work with others on a team. They also make new friends and see old friends that they made in previous years.

“Some of them already have skills when they come to us, and they can get better, and some of them have hidden talents and we want to bring that out,” Harris said. “They learn to work within their team, and to work together, and to be a team, they learn how to develop the right attitude and be positive.”

The festival was originally called Mini Deaf Olympics, and was later renamed The Deaf Youth Sports Festival, but it’s still abbreviated as MDO. It started in 1983 with seven volunteers and seven participants, and grew rapidly from there.

Harris explained that Tim Owens started the camp because he saw a need for Deaf camps. Growing up deaf, he couldn’t go to camp because most of the ones around were for hearing kids, so he decided to set up a camp only for DHH children.

The camp has been held at many different locations over the years including KSD earlier in its run. It’s been held at the University of Louisville, Indiana School for the Deaf, a facility in Versailles, Kentucky, and others.

The week starts out with an opening ceremony where the previous year’s Mr. and Miss Olympian carry in the authentic Olympic torch, previously carried by Tim Owens in the 1996 Olympics through Henryville, Indiana. Throughout the week, kids participate in sports during the day and special activities every night of the week.

Wednesday night was bowling night; on Thursday there was a carnival with bouncy houses and games; and on Friday there was a big banquet with medal ceremonies for each athlete who won gold, silver or bronze.

This year’s Mr. and Miss Olympian were crowned at Friday’s banquet, selected from the high school participants, with input from the high school coaches, high school participants, and sports committee, based on exhibiting excellent sportsmanship, teamwork and character. This year’s Olympians are Marat Kempf from ISD as Mr. Olympian, and Shonda Barker from KSD as Miss Olympian.

The banquet’s theme this year was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and athletes had fun dressing up in the theme. The banquet also had crafts, the limbo, and entertainment by a special guest performer, Sebastien Ianno.

Ianno is a juggler and fire performer originally from Belgium, who recently moved to Indiana to be with his wife. He first came in contact with KSD when performing at DeaFestival, which was held in Danville in fall 2022.

He started juggling in 2013 while traveling alone in Asia for 15 months. He saw fire jugglers and was inspired to learn how to do it, and said he had plenty of time to practice.

After returning to Belgium, he continued learning from other performers and went around to different festivals with them. One deaf performer he looked up to is Wink, also called Clin D’Oeil, which is the French term for wink.

Ianno said Wink invited him to perform at the Wink Festival twice, which is an international deaf event with usually about 25,000 people in attendance.

“That really made me grow and be more well-known in the Deaf community, and that was something I’m very proud of, because I’m not the only Deaf person in the world, I’m not the only one out there doing this,” Ianno said.

Now, Ianno has been performing all over the world for nine years. In addition to juggling, he does light performances and other fire performances, circus arts, storytelling, and multimedia marketing events.

Previously, he worked for a Deaf camp full time as a coordinator and counselor in Belgium, and also worked at the National Association of the Deaf in Belgium. But he said his goal is to perform full time.

“Now I’ve been trying to focus more on my artistry and my work as a performer, because that’s really where my passion is, and that’s what I would like to do full time,” Ianno said.

Ianno performed several times during the banquet and other events at the festival, including a comedy act related to sports, juggling interesting items, and light stick tricks.

The week ended with Closing Ceremonies where the Spirit Award goes to the team who most exhibited excellent sportsmanship, strong teamwork, and outstanding character.

Beatrice Pfaff, Executive Director of MDO, said the camp has many volunteers who come from all over the region, not just Kentucky. They have volunteers and interpreters from Ohio, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, and others.

Harris explained that there will be two more events as part of KSD’s 200th anniversary. One is the KSDAA Sports / Banquet and alumni gathering on July 28-29.  It will bring alumni together to play flag football, basketball, and cheerleading; and a sports banquet will be held at Grow Hall.

Harris said they are expecting around 250 alumni, especially sports related alumni, people who graduated in the 1940s all the way up until 2022.

The final Bicentennial event is the 3rd Annual 5K Arlen Finke’s Fun Run/Walk, which will occur in September or October. Finke was a PE teacher at KSD who retired. The school established a foundation to put on fundraisers to help students be more involved in athletics.

“We started this foundation to encourage kids to have a healthy balance between being physically active and technology,” Harris said.

The run is open to anyone who wants to run or walk, and more information will be available soon.