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Goalball: A sport for the blind, not the lighthearted

Goalball: A sport for the blind, not the lighthearted (WICS)
Goalball: A sport for the blind, not the lighthearted (WICS)
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The Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI) not only helps students achieve an education but also gives the students athletic opportunities, one being a sport that many have not heard of: goalball.

Goalball is the No. 1 sport for the visually impaired. It was created in 1946 in Europe as a way to help visually impaired World War II veterans. It made its way over to the United States and has grown tremendously in popularity.

The best way to describe the sport is that it is a combination of soccer and bowling. Two teams compete against each other and try to score the most goals after four quarters. There are three people per team on the court, which is about the size of a regulation basketball court. At each end of the court, there's a massive net, about the size of a soccer net. The ball that is used is about the size of a basketball that has bells inside.

The way to score a goal is a player must roll the ball, like you would a bowling ball, and the other team will try to block the ball from going into the net. They can do this with just their hands or put their full body on the floor and block it. These balls can be thrown up to speeds of 60 mph.

ISVI junior Bernie Roach said, "When you're in an actual goalball game, it does get variously fast for the ball whipping around at a certain speed from different perspectives of strength."

"My whole body gets to be involved. I can throw as hard as I want to the other team. It's really physical. People have broken their nose. So you have to be careful. It really helps with anger too, " ISVI junior Tori Lynch said.

There are some regulations, the biggest one being a piece of equipment. Regardless of whether the athlete is completely blind or just blind in one eye, each player must wear a pair of goggles to level the playing field. These goggles block out any light that could enter the player's line of vision. There also must be complete silence during a goalball game. So, players are relying on the sounds of the bells inside the goalball to try and stop a goal.

"There are times where it's not quiet, so you have to block out that noise and mainly focus on the ball and the bells. Just don't focus on anything else. So you have to really concentrate and to hear that bell," Lynch said.

Now, the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) incorporated goalball on a club level and for high school students. For high school students, there are three conferences across the country. The North Central Association for Schools for the Blind (NCASB) is the conference for the Midwest Region, including ISVI. There are 13 states that are a part of the NCASB from all over the Midwest Region that compete for conference titles in a variety of sports, the biggest one being goalball.

"The goalball program is really the foundation of all the athletics because it is the sport for the visually impaired. There's a lot of history here and the kids take so much pride in it it's unbelievable," ISVI athletic director Ken Mansell said.

The sport was introduced at ISVI about 13 years ago. In 2017 and 2018, the ISVI Warriors were Conference Champions for girls and boys goalball. The girls team won the conference title in 2017 and the boys won the title in 2018. In total, the girls and boys teams have won five conference titles.

Mansell said, "It's like public and parochial schools winning a state title. There's 100 percent no difference. In 2017, Coach Strain took her girls and they overcame a loss, came back, had the best of two out of three and they came back with title."

"The moment that we were going to go to the finals was really, really emotional. It's been a long time since Illinois girls has been to the championship," Lynch said.

Then, in 2018, the boys team did the exact same thing. They had a tough task and a very difficult opponent to beat in Wisconsin.

ISVI sophomore Leo Tomich said, "The whole team was trying to achieve this one common goal, trying to win against this other team that has been beating us for a while. We're just kind of done with it."

"We worked really hard in practice. We used bowling pins to figure out exactly where we needed to throw the ball. We strategized," Boys Head Coach Darla Chambers said. "We figure with this one particular boy, because he's so good, we had to go from side-to-side-to-side-to-side as fast as we could, because he had a hard time getting up on the floor and returning the ball. So that's what the boys did. Then we ended up beating them three times. In the final championship game, we finally beat them after three years."

Tomich said, "I about cried to be honest with you. We've been facing the team for like five years, and they've been beating us. When we finally won, I about cried."

After high school, there are options for these student athletes for club teams and even for the USA Paralympic Team. In fact, there are a couple of ISVI alums that are a part of national goalball clubs across the country, including one located in Chicago.

"That's one of the goals for several of our students. They want to be part of the Paralympics by being involved on the goalball team," Mansell said.

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To learn more about goalball, you can head to the Paralympics website. The season for the ISVI Warriors will begin in the fall of 2019.

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