Bullinger on the way to Gallaudet University National Academic Bowl

Ammon Bullinger, a 17-year-old junior at Burlington High School, is a typical all-American boy. He’s involved in football and basketball, is a member of the National Honor Society and has maintained a 4.0 grade point average. In his community he’s involved in 4-H, scouting (currently near the finish line to earning his Eagle badge) and the LDS Church.

However, unlike his friends and classmates, Ammon is heading to Washington, D.C., where he and three teammates — high school students from Cheyenne, Douglas and Casper — will compete in the Gallaudet University National Academic Bowl competition Apr. 14-18.

The Academic Bowl challenges deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students in a Jeopardy-style game against their peers.

Ammon said he enjoys the competition for several reasons. The number one reason is because “my team members are so cool.” Also high on the list is “getting to travel to the competitions. It’s a lot of fun.”

As Ammon prepares for nationals he has been focusing on math and science. He explains that the contests are three-fold. The first round will consist of 20 toss-up and 20 bonus questions. The first player buzzing in gets to answer. If he or she is wrong, the first player from the opposing teams gets to answer. If a player gets a toss-up question right, a bonus question is awarded and the entire team can discuss the answer.

In round two 20 questions are asked, however, players take turns answering the questions with no communication among teams allowed.

In the final round for the championship there are 15 questions (written), usually relating to one category and usually one topic. Teams are given two minutes to discuss and record their answers. In regional competitions there are fewer questions asked in all three rounds.

Ammon’s team took second in the Midwest Regional competition held at the Iowa School for the
Deaf in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in February. The team’s only loss was to the defending national champions from Indiana.

Ammon said, based on the second place in regional competition, he believes the Wyoming team “will do well” in Washington, D.C.

Wyoming is unique in this competition. Other states send teams from their respective schools for the deaf. Wyoming’s only school for the deaf closed in 2002, so the Wyoming team is strictly a “state” team.

Ammon’s mother, Christine, said this presents a challenge to Wyoming’s team members, “They have little time to practice together or to get to know each other before the competition. Other schools often offer a class in high school that specifically prepares for this competition.”

“The Wyoming coach,” Christine said, “sends bits of information for the kids to study or makes suggestions, but mostly the kids study on their own.”

Ammon went to Casper in November where he completed a written test to vie for a spot on the Wyoming team. After the team was selected, the members had to do an online video competition to qualify for the regional in Iowa in February.

The contest includes both individual and team questions over a wide range of issues.

“Typically our Wyoming team struggles most with questions dealing with deaf culture because they have little exposure to it in Wyoming,” Christine explained.

Incidentally, Ammon, the fourth of six children of Chris and Christine Bullinger, was born with “hemifacial micrsomia (half of his face is underdeveloped and no ear canal or external ear formed on one side) and a cleft lip and palate.

In his young life he has undergone over 20 reconstructive surgeries with more planned. His mother said doctors reconstructed an outer ear, but were unable to restore his hearing, and he is deaf on the right side. “He uses a bone-anchored hearing aid implant (BAH) which is different than a cochlear implant which works for people with a conductive hearing loss,” she said.

His disability hasn’t slowed him down, although he does have a problem, according to his mother, “in noisy environments, and especially outside with our Wyoming wind; and he has to work harder to get new vocabulary terms at school.”  His 4.0 GPA, which he maintains despite a challenging course load, speaks volumes for his determination and courage.

Looking ahead, Ammon said after graduating next year, he plans to serve a two-year mission for his church. On his return from the mission he plans to enroll in college, “maybe BYU, or MIT or a college in California, depending on what scholarships I can get,” and major in some branch of computer engineering.

Then, degree in hand, he would like to either “be working on my own, or for a high tech company like Apple or Google,” Ammon said.

That’s in the future. Right now he’s boning up for the national competition, looking forward to joining his fellow team members and the coaches in Denver for the flight to D.C. and maybe, competition completed, doing a little sightseeing in our nation’s capitol.

By Marlys Good