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Shot in the dark

6/18/2014

The USA Men’s team competes in a recent Goalball tournament.

The USA Men’s team competes in a recent Goalball tournament.

What do soccer and bowling have in common? Aside from being two sports that can’t get proper air time on ESPN, they require a fair amount of eye-hand coordination. Now imagine combining the two sports and removing vision from the mix. What’s left is Goalball, one of the most exciting team sports in the Paralympic Games.

“Goalball is a Paralympic sport for athletes who are blind or vision-impaired,” says Mike Boone, director of Adaptive Sports Iowa, a Paralympic Sports Club serving central Iowa. “It is the only Paralympic sport not adapted from another sport (example: wheelchair basketball from basketball). It’s a very fast-paced and entertaining game!”

Devised in 1946 by the Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle as a means of assisting the rehabilitation of visually impaired World War II veterans, goalball gradually evolved into a competitive game during the 1950s and ’60s.

“Later it was nominated as a demonstration sport at the 1976 Summer Paralympics in Toronto,” said John Potts, Goalball High Performace Director with the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA). The sport’s first world championship was held in Austria in 1978. Goalball was added to the 1980 Summer Paralympics, becoming the first Paralympic sport designed exclusively for disabled players.”

Each game includes two teams with three players each. The object of the game is to roll the ball across your opponent’s end line. The ball is approximately the size of a basketball and has bells inside it so the players can hear it. A goalball team may include players with varying degrees of visual impairment, so all the players wear eyeshades or sports goggles to keep it equal.

There are only two positions, center and wing. The three plays have both responsibilities of offense and defense though, generally, the center is the primary defender.

Sharp hearing is clearly an advantage in goalball, but there is more to it than that. Hard, well-placed shots — that can reach speeds upwards of 60 mph — are more likely to sneak in, while flexibility and agility means players can get across the court to block shots more quickly — much like a goalkeeper. With goals being nine meters wide, slow players are left with slim chances.

The 2014 USABA Goalball National Championships will take place in Ames this year.

“Adaptive Sports Iowa has an outstanding reputation for providing the ultimate competition experience,” Potts said. “Their reputation for excellence and the opportunity to bring Goalball to a new part of the country were both key elements for their selection as host.”

“All the athletes in this tournament are legally blind, and competing is a highly technical sport. For those spectators that have never been exposed to the Paralympic movement, they’ll be humbled,” said Boone. “People will find these athletes are just as competitive and athletic as any other athlete. CV

David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

June 19–21
Tournament play starts: 6:30–10 p.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
All games will be held at Ames Middle School, 3915 Mortensen Road, Ames.
An opening ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 19.

Barmuda