Thomas W. Elliott & Art Kruger
Co-Founders of AAAD
A Deaf American Monograph, 1996
by Ira Lerner
Down through the years the AAAD story has been told and retold by different contemporaries – Art Kruger, “Bud” Allen, Alexander Fleischman, Max Friedman, Charles “Rastus” Koons, Hugh Cusack, Edward Carney, Barry Strassler, and Jack Levesque, all able historians. It has been told how in 1944, the idea was conceived simultaneously in the fertile minds of two young men, Art Kruger, a transplanted easterner in the midwest, and the other, Tom Elliott, a midwestern native who had pulled up stake s and settled in California.
History has it that they put their idea s down in writing and mailed them to each other. Unfortunately for posterity, their letters crossed in the mail s so, to this day we do not know whose letter had the earlier postmark. However, to their lasting credit, their twin proposals took root and flourished as the years went by. To these pioneers the sport minded deaf people of America are sincerely grateful.
On an unlucky Friday, April 13, 1945, while the nation mourned the passing of the great Democrat president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 30-odd representatives of various clubs met in a business session at the headquarter s of the Akron Club of the Deaf and proceeded to organize into a permanent group. One of· their main objectives, which was adopted, was to promote athletic contests among clubs of the deaf, ending the season with regional and national championship basketball tournaments.
Other aims were to foster and enforce uniform rules for athletic competition; to establish championship regulations; to act as a parent organization in developing regional athletics, starting with basketball and eventually, branching out to embrace all forms of healthy athletic competition. They voted to call it the American Athletic Union of the Deaf. The first elected administration was comprised of Art Kruger, president; Alexander Fleischman, vice-president; Tom Elliott, secretary and Calvin Nininger, treasurer.
The first bona fide national cagefest was held the next day, the 14th, in the Goodyear Gym attended by some 2,000 fans. Teams from Los Angeles, Kansas City, Buffalo, Philadelphia, with Akron as the host team, were at the time rated tops in the nation and were invited to participate.
In 1947 the name of the organization was changed to the American Athletic Association of the Deaf to comply with recommendations from Daniel J. Ferris, secretary-treasurer of the American Athletic Union of the United States. This was to avoid confusion in the minds of the sport s reading public over the similarity in the initial s of the two organizations – AAUD and AAU. The 50-odd de legates at the convention also inserted into the record that no dis-crimination would be held against any deaf person because of race or creed and that the president’s term be limited to two consecutive years. The AAAD Bulletin, official organ of the AAAD then got underway. Softball activities were initiated with the AAAD sanctioning softball tournaments.
The fourth year (1948) saw the AAAD spreading out overseas to Europe and other countries when it became affiliated with the Comite International des Sports des Sourds (CISS), the official title in French, interpreted in English as the International Congress of Sports of the Deaf. It was believed such an affiliation would go far toward cementing friendship between the AAAD and athletic organizations in foreign lands and that the influence of the CISS would benefit the AAAD in enabling it to stage future World Games of the Deaf, the so-called Deaf Olympics.
During the sixth year (1950) 93 clubs joined the AAAD, a new record. The following year club delegates voted to drop two vice-presidents from the board as unnecessary. Delegate s also voted that in the future only players who have attended a school for the deaf would be eligible for competition in the games. The old rule that a player had to be “deaf or hard of hearing ” was scrapped as it was open to too liberal an interpretation.
In 1952, a regrettable incident came up. In spite of assurance given by host Houston that no player would be barred because of color, the operators at the gymnasium at the last minute, informed the Houston club that no black players would be allowed on the floor. Two of the top teams, Des Moines and the Golden Tornadoes of New York, were hit by that ruling.
An important feature was added when the AAAD Board of Directors ratified a plan presented by a selected committee to establish the AAAD Hall of Fame to honor out standing players, coaches and leaders in years to come. To gain entrance to the sacred Hall, a player, coach or leader candidate goes through a screening process before his name is put up for vote by a 26-member election panel. William (Dummy) Hoy was the first electee. In 1955 the “Athlete of the Year” award followed, given annually to the outstanding male or female athlete of the past year. Alex Fleischman was appointed first chairperson of the Hall of Fame. At present the Hall of Fame exhibit is housed on the Gallaudet University campus.
At the business meeting held at Kansas City in 1954 the new position of publicity director was proposed, voted on and carried by all. Hugh Cusack was elected the first publicity director of the AAAD. At this session the group mandated that two sets of tournament records be filed, and also that the records of the last ten years be rearranged to separate those of the championship and consolation flights, to avoid possible collusion during consolation games.
Kansas City donated a permanent trophy to be known as the traveling “Kansas City Club of the Deaf Trophy,” the winner at each tournament to gain possess ion for one year, with its name engraved upon the plate attached to the base . Beginning with the Kansas City tournament, any winner gaining possession of the trophy three times would be allowed to keep it permanently. In 1956, in Cleveland something new was added to AAAD entertainment history with the first Hall of Fame luncheon, in the main banquet room of the Carter Hotel which was attended by over 500 guests.
During the business sessions at the 1957 tournament in New York City, hosted by the Pelicans Club of the Deaf, it was decided to discontinue the office of publicity director as each host city club had been handling its own publicity. Coach Ron Miller of the Pelicans, a social worker with the Jewish Society of the Deaf in New York who had recently taken a course in deafness rehabilitation at Gallaudet College, made his debut as the first hearing coach in the AAAD nationals. The 1959 the souvenir pro gram booklet commemorating fifteen years of the AAAD, prepared by Vic Galloway, chairman of Atlanta national tourney, for surpassed all souvenir booklets in the past. It included a history of the AAAD and of past tournaments with lists of all previous records along with several articles of interest.
In 1960 it was determined that students still attending an educational institution may not sign with nor play for any club team unless they are barred by age limitations from playing for their school teams. In addition, it was required that they have written permission from the heads of their school and of their parents. This is Article XIII, Section 8 of the Rules and Regulations of the AAAD. Because of this ruling, Kevin Milligan was ineligible to play for the Queen City Athletic Club of the Deaf of Buffalo, in the 16th annual AAAD tournament held at Detroit on March 31, 1960. Milligan had been a varsity cager for Erie County Technical Institute of Buffalo, a junior college, during the past season. Yet, even without Kevin Milligan Queen City rocked Little Rock, 71-63, to win the national title.
The Blue Jays of the Deaf of Los Angeles, participating in the 1961 Little Rock tournament, were the first all-black team to compete in the nationals. In the 1963 tourney held in Hollywood, California, many exciting events took place for the first time. Los Angeles Ephpheta defeated Washington, D.C. in five overtime periods in the first round, then nicked Pittsburgh in triple overtime as they went on to win the nationals. California is famed for the unusual, and this tournament added to that fame. It was also the first time in nineteen years that a tournament was directed by a lady-the first major domo, Lil Skinner. Also, this tournament marked the beginning of the AAAD 10/25 club (those who had attended AAAD tournaments at least ten times). A midnight dinner meeting was held on Friday evening with the following elected to the new club for the year, Fred Schreiber, big chief; Ernest Singerman, little chief and Art Sherman, medicine man.
In 1965, twenty nations sent teams to the World Games of the Deaf, hosted by the AAAD for the first time on United States soil. Under the leadership of Jerry Jordan, local people from the metropolitan Washington area arranged for the games to be held at the University of Maryland, at Gallaudet, and in other locations. The United States and Russia teams were tied with 53 medals each. Over I 0,000 people attended the opening day ceremony.
Leon Orlient Grant, the 6’8″ pivotman from North Carolina, playing for Los Angeles, made his debut at Boston in 1966. He proved to be the greatest deaf center and rebounder we had ever seen in the 22-year history of the AAAD. At the same tournament Clyde Nutt became the first player in AAAD history to score 1,000 points during a tournament and was awarded a basketball with his feat inscribed on it.
The popularity of the AAAD national basketball tournaments continued. At the 1968 meeting in New York, AAAD regulations were approved making selection of the host city to be decided at least four years in advance by ballot at the annual meeting of the AAAD board of directors.
Akron had done it in 1945! And Akron did it again in 1969! The AAAD had become 25 years old. Little did we realize back in 1945 that the association would grow and grow to its present proportions … thanks to the Akron Club of the Deaf, the program booklets were bound in silver covers with blue ribbons attached. At the 1970 tournament held at Oakland, for the first time the AAAD vice president chaired the Hall of Fame committee and the All Star Selection board. Lenny Warshawsky, chairman of the USA Records Commission, announced that he had printed 1,000 booklets on American and World Deaf records in track and field and swimming as well as an AAAD National Basketball All-Time Resume. The booklet sold for fifty cents with all proceeds going into the USA World Games for the Deaf fund.
In St. Louis, in 1971, the 10/25 Club became the 10/50 club. Tom Elliott of Los Angeles and Lenny Warshawsky of Chicago were the only persons who had attended all 27 AAAD national meets. Delegates in Dallas, Texas in 1973, approved the formation of an ad hoc committee to study revising the Hall of Fame policy, a national softball tournament commencing in 1975 with a chairman to be appointed later in the year and a fifty cents increase for subscriptions to the AAAD Bulletin.
After contacting all regional presidents in 1974 to seek a solution to the softball question, President John Buckmaster was especially pleased when they came up with constructive recommendations and his dream of our having a national softball tournament was finally realized. The first such meeting was held on third weekend of September 1976, sponsored by Detroit Association of the Deaf. At the same meeting, a new Hall of Fame “Old Timer” category was added to the AAAD Rules and Regulations. The AAAD Hall of Fame policy was completely revised at long last. This policy included some very important changes, such as a candidate must receive the highest number of points with only one exception permitting less than 65 points. In the event no candidate receives the minimum 65 points, there would be no selection in that category. These amendments were all endorsed by the delegates.
It was proposed at the 1977 tournament in Salt Lake City, that a study be initiated on having an AAAD national volleyball meet, probably in 1980 and each year after wards. And a committee was set up for a golf meet as well. Region Eight became a reality! The delegates approved New England as the new region, to take effect in 1983. Meanwhile, the law committee was to study and bring up necessary changes for the new addition at the next annual meeting.
It was announced that among coming events in the AAAD calendar would be the first biennial national volleyball tournament (for men and women teams) hosted by Chicago Club of the Deaf, July 24-26, 1980. At this meeting, the long suspense over who would win the “attendance contest” was ended! Hail to the champ! Thomas Elliott was named undisputed champion when it comes to attending AAAD national basketball tournaments. Tom had attended every tournament since the AAAD was organized in Akron as had Lenny Warshawsky who attended 35 straight years. Because the Illinois Association of the Deaf had requested Lenny (along IAD prexy) to be speaker at their Diamond (75th) anniversary banquet that same weekend, he wasn’t able to attend this AAAD tournament.
In Buffalo, in 1981, the action that had the most wide spread impact probably was that which raised the bid fee and the performance bond for host teams from $200 to $500 and which also imposed a fine of $1,000 a year if a selected host dropped the national tournament.
Among other relatively minor changes made at Miami Beach in 1982, in the rules and regulations of the association was the decision to permit the president to serve up to four consecutive one-year terms. It was noted that at least two of the eight AAAD regions do not yet know where their next year’s regional basketball tournament would be held. In 1983 for the first time in AAAD history all eight regions were actively participating in the organization. The New England Athletic Association of the Deaf was formally voted into full regional membership. This caused quite a few changes in the AAAD rules and regulations so all concerned players and leaders were advised to read the updated rules thoroughly when they became available.
During the business meetings of the tournament held in San Francisco in 1983, volleyball was the big issue. The delegates finally approved a plan whereby the AAAD will retain responsibility until 1986 when it expected a new national group of enthusiasts in this sport would take control and support for their own tournaments. No bids were received to host the 1986 or 1987 basketball tournaments
A once-in-a-lifetime event took place at the Hall of Fame luncheon when the AAAD honored Rita Windbrake of Bornheim-Sechtem in the Federal Republic of Germany, as ” Deaf Athlete of the Century.” She had won in various track events in a number of succeeding World Games of the Deaf, a total· of eleven gold, three silver and three bronze medals. She had even won three gold medals at the ripe “old” age of 36 years.
The 1985 tournament in Chicago was of even greater significance, as Chicago finally broke the jinx of no host team ever winning its own tournament. Notable at this tournament was that perhaps for the first time ever, a Gallaudet University president came and stayed for the full tournament. President Jerry C. Lee brought along three deaf members of his administrative team, Bob Davila, Jack Gannon, and Merv Garretson. Dr. Lee continued attending AAAD tournaments all during the years he was president. Among the various reports presented was one that plans for the World Games of the Deaf to be held that summer were in good shape and moving forward according to schedule. The only sour note was that the Eastern Bloc nations led by USSR would be boycotting the WGD just as was done at the regular Olympic Games in 1984 .
The 1986 Louisville host racked up several firsts: a) the headquarters hotel was right at the edge of the airport; b) the gym was within sight of the hotel, with the result that it was the shortest walk between’ the hotel and gym in history; c) there was a cafeteria right in the gym so fans did not have to leave the site to look for a meal, and d) each of the final three games in the championship round boasted three (3) referees.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1987, the only major change in personnel was that Larry Fleischer replaced Ron Sutcliffe as head of the committee charged with the responsibility for restructuring the AAAD. Ron and his committee had worked hard and success fully in drafting a basic document for a reorganization of the association.
The 1988 Boston tournament left another historic note worth chronicling. With Shirley Platt and Pauline Wood, for the first time in its long history, the AAAD administrative board had women members. Shirley was elected secretary-treasurer and Pauline the women ‘s softball commissioner. A unique feature of that year’s luncheon was the appearance of Dr. I. King Jordan, the eighth president of Gallaudet University and the first one to be deaf!
A complete restructuring of the organization took place at the Miami Beach meeting, with a spinoff of nineteen (19) national sports organizations, hiring a full-time executive director and establishment of a home office. Recognition and affiliation with the United States Olympic Committee had resulted in availability of training funds for improving the skills of athletes, as well as for support personnel.
In New Orleans, in 1993, Marsha Wetzel (left) broke ground in becoming the first woman to officiate at an AAAD women’s game and did a creditable job. Also, at the 1993 business meeting, the delegates approved a change in the rules related to eligibility of nominees to the Hall of Fame which added a fourth category, “Official.” This was done in recognition of the fact that the existing categories of player, coach, and leader did not provide eligibility for a rapidly increasing number of deaf persons who have become certified and licensed officials for various types of sports competition. The following year at the golden anniversary basketball tournament of the AAAD, Saul Lukacs, a greatly experienced and highly respected soccer referee, became the first official to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The timeliness of the actions of the delegates in changing the rules appeared to be most appropriate inasmuch as all (eight men and one woman) officials handling the competitions of the tournament in Akron not only were licensed and experienced but also deaf!
The 50th basketball tournament was held at Akron, Ohio in 1994. The event was the first wholly under the auspices of the new Deaf Basketball Association. After 49 years of being under the supervision of the AAAD, this was the third organizational name change since 1945. There, for the first time in history, certified deaf referees officiated the entire tournament and impressed the fans. Thirty five fans who had attended the first and 50th tournaments were honored in a ceremony at halftime during the championship game.
In Tucson, in 1995, the AAAD continued to strive for greatness, with many changes taking place within the organization. At the forefront of these changes was the establishment of the National Sports Organizations (NSO) in compliance with the United States Olympic Commission (USOC) which will serve to make each sport and the AAAD organization as a whole even better and stronger. USADB is a solid example of the excellence to be achieved as an NSO under the AAAD.
1996 was the first year the United States of America Deaf Basketball (USADB) hosted the Nationals itself, with assistance of local organizations. This new national tournament policy is expected to provide more vital resource s to the most important persons in the sports of deaf basketball- the basketball players. In the past, net proceeds of such nationals rarely were shared with our deaf basketball players who needed financial support as they sought enjoyment and competition goals during their playing careers. Now, this is no longer true under the new USADB basketball tournament policy from local to national levels. It is my belief that the most important thing for the USADB now is to involve all basketball players, coaches, teams and sponsors together as they conduct this national sport in harmony.
The AAAD has grown into such immense proportions, that it has been recognized on Capital Hill, in Colorado Springs, the home of the United States Olympic Commission and by handicapped sports governing bodies as the organizational spearhead of all sports involving deaf and hard of hearing people.
More to come…
Note: American Athletic Association of the Deaf (AAAD) was split into two organizations, USA Sports Deaf Federation (USADSF) and USA Deaf Basketball (USADB) in 1999. Then USADB created two divisions, International and National. Youth division was added in 2005.