Deaf flag football tournament in Chicago full of surprises

Originally appeared in Silent News, December 2000.

Wheeling, IL—The weather was perfect: not too chilly, but not too hot. The sun was cooperative, and the wind wasn’t too strong. Twelve teams, with a total of 214 players, came to participate in the U.S. Deaf Flag Football Super Bowl XV, hosted by the Chicago Club of the Deaf with Terry Hall as chairperson.

The double-elimination tournament made for some interesting games, especially with teams that were expected to lose early on in the weekend. Games were played very much off schedule, which resulted in irritation on the part of the players, and confusion among fans. An example was the game between Minnepaul and SWCID. Originally slated for Friday at 3 p.m., it got postponed until the next morning at 8 a.m. due to darkness. Even then, the game did not start until late Saturday. There also was no clear scoreboard, and the results from each game were written on a big piece of paper taped to the side of a van. The weekend’s 247 fans had to either sit on a crowded bench or sit on the ground.

Regardless of these minor obstacles, the tournament was well-attended and full of spirit. The game between Indianapolis and Chicago was one of the more notable games. Both teams, with veterans Kevin Smith playing for Chicago and Michael Paulone playing for Indianapolis, were full of young and inexperienced players looking to Smith and Paulone for guidance.

Minnepaul was also another surprise for many. However, Herman Fuechtmann, the Minnepaul coach, said, “I was not surprised with our results. In fact, I expected us to do a little better. If we had beaten Indy instead of choking at the end of the game. We might have had a few players but they were quality players.” The game between Indianapolis and Minnepaul ended dramatically. Both teams were tied, and Indianapolis had a chance to score a touchdown with four downs from the 20-yard line. Sure enough, Indianapolis managed to pull off the touchdown, winning the game, 19-13.

The GODS team, complied of what seemed to be too many players from all over the nation, played aggressively and fiercely. They had no practice sessions prior to the tournament, and this proved to be their downfall.

The championship game between Ohio and Frederick proved to be one of the most climatic games. Ohio, who had Cy Saunders and Jesse Bailey, played against brothers John and Joshua Moore of the FSK team of Frederick. The game was over with a winning touchdown by Joshua Moore, the championship belonging to Frederick.

One of the unique things about this year’s tournament was the presence of deaf referees; three of the four referees were deaf. USFFD Commissioner Alex Calogar helped coordinate the first-ever training session for all interested deaf referees prior to the tournament. Hall of Fame Diretor John Schultz wrote in an e-mail, “[The USFFD Committee] most certainly got our feet wet—or should I say boiled?—as we did our best to deal with the many new changes that occurred. A perfect example would be the implementation of the new USFTL (US Football Touch League) rules system by the three deaf referees, trained and certified by USFTL during the summer of 2000 with the help of an USA Deaf Sports Federation grant.”

However, the deaf referees weren’t quite well-received by the players. Fuechtmann said, “I feel it is hard for deaf referees to stay unbiased when the players are complaining so much about calls no matter how good [the calls] were. It seems that when there are hearing referees, it’s harder for the players to complain, and the players can focus on playing the game instead of worrying or wasting time arguing with the referees. This seems to be true of sports that have deaf referees—basketball, softball, and flag football.”

Indeed, during the game between Indiana and Chicago, an Indianapolis supporter walked up to a referee and signed fiercely, “You are the worst referee ever! Ever! I will never support you!” Referee Halischak  ignored him and walked off, with Indiana players restraining their emotional supporter. Overall sentiments were that the referees did a good job, especially with the communication being so accessible.

That night, the Hall of Fame banquet honored Ron Sipek and Willie Forrest, both originally from Illinois. “USFFD has worked with the host deaf club in finding names along with biographies and histories. What normally happen is the host club usually does their own research into their local deaf football history, then submits a list of two to four names to the USFFD board of directors,” said Schultz. “Thus, the USFFD Hall of Fame has been able to mine a golden vein of deaf football stories while accumulating a long list of past-time deaf football greats from throughout the country.”

After the Hall of Fame event, awards were given out. This year’s awards were a little different, because selections were based on statistics alone. Cy Saunders scored the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament (55 passing attempts/33 passing completions, 501 yards, 7 touchdowns and 1 interception). Other honors included Defensive MVP being given to Alex Calogar (9 tackles and 5 sacks), and Offensive MVP being John Moore (63 passing attempts/29 passing completions, 487 yards, 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, along with 11 rushes for 133 yards and 1 touchdown).

Schultz said, “I can definitely say that this year’s tournament was completely covered with silver lining, with everyone involved in a grand learning experience, especially with the new USFFD board of directors going through a trial-by-fire in handling their first tournament together.”

Chairperson Hall agreed. “We really want to thank the folks that came and enjoyed the weekend. The Chicago fans that came and supported our teams and other fans from other places were the greatest.”

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