“Different people find goalball interesting and fun for various reasons, but there’s nothing like it out there and no other sport you can compare it to.”
— Andrew Bernet, Orientation & Mobility at Lighthouse for the Blind
We are all familiar with the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the World Series. Athletic games play an important role in our culture, and active people are fitter, healthier, and more confident. Although sports are a big part of everyday life, they present more of a challenge for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Andrew Bernet, who provides Orientation & Mobility Rehabilitation Services at Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth and is blind himself, can relate to this challenge on both a personal and professional level. As Andrew explains, there are so many opportunities for activities for people who can see, but about 70 percent of blind or visually impaired children may never even have access to a basic physical education class. “Schools don’t have coaches or resources to expose them to it, so a lot of kids end up sitting on the sidelines,” Andrew says. “All the fun everyone else gets to have just to play a pickup game of basketball, the blind or visually impaired don’t typically get to have.”
That’s why FUMCFW is joining forces with Lighthouse for the Blind to start a Goalball League. Longtime First Church member Nancy Fisher, Head of Community Development at Lighthouse for the Blind, says their mission is to empower individuals who are blind through superior training, meaningful employment, and one-on-one specialized rehabilitation services so that they lead full lives with the highest level of independence and quality of life. Leslie Hall, Head of Rehabilitation Services, adds, “Generally, when people think of blindness, words such as inability, sad, and dependent may come to mind . . . Our continued goal is for the general public to associate blind individuals with words such as confident, independent, and highly capable.”
Goalball, a Paralympic sport played by blind or visually impaired athletes, was created after World War II as a way for blinded veterans to stay physically active. Today, it is the premiere team game for blind athletes. “We are thrilled to be able to partner with FUMCFW as we start our goalball league,” Nancy exclaims. “FUMCFW members have a standing invitation to come out to watch or participate.”
Goalball is a competitive team sport that is fast-paced, physically challenging, strategic, and exciting. Two teams, each with three players, face off on either side of a court that is 9 meters wide and 18 meters long. The object of the game is to roll a basketball-sized ball filled with bells past your opponent’s goal line. Meanwhile, the other team listens for the oncoming ball and attempts to block it. If they are able to stop the ball and take control, they become the offensive team.
Andrew says his favorite thing about Goalball is how it gives people a chance to push their boundaries. “I teach other people how to get around with a cane, and to make sure they know where they’re going and don’t just go out and let loose,” Andrew describes. “It’s a structured environment, but out on the Goalball court you get to feel free to cut loose and feel yourself pushing it up to that next level which you don’t typically get to do on daily basis.”
Goalball is not just for the blind or visually impaired. Sighted people can also participate by playing blindfolded. Andrew feels like almost every sighted person who tries to play goalball finds out how much fun they can have and how much they can do without depending on their vision. He says it blows people’s minds all the time.“This is a unique opportunity to see a different side of a world people didn’t know existed,” Andrew declares. “It’s one of those things that no matter how it’s described you don’t really get the concept of how it’s played until you come and really jump in yourself.”
The first goalball practice is on January 9 from 9:30 am – 12:00 pm in the Justin Building, and the game will continue at the same time on Saturday mornings through March 5. Former Goalball Paralympic Coach Christy Householter will be at the first practice to lead drills and train new volunteers who would like to get involved with the sport. Sighted volunteers will help provide feedback and play mini games at the end of each practice. Anyone is welcome, but please note that participants are required to be at least 16 years old.
Whether you are sighted or blind, player or volunteer, come join us for this unique sporting experience. For more information, contact Nancy Fisher (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Andrew Bernet (email@example.com) at 817/332-3341, or Rev. Chuck Graff (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 817/339-5065.