Navigating down a volleyball-sized court while passing opponents, diving to block passes and shooting to score goals blindfolded with only the sound of a bell to guide players down the court is a scenario that’s all too familiar for the members of SRU’s Goalball Club.
Ahead of their trip this weekend to Vancouver, Washington to compete in the first collegiate goalball tournament against the University of California, Berkeley and Portland State University, the club was recently recognized as an official organization on campus by the Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SGA). Goalball is a sport that was created for individuals that have visual impairments, including those that are legally blind, have limited eyesight or completely lack vision.
Led by adapted physical activity faculty member Wendy Fagan, Slippery Rock’s Goalball Club has eight members that have varying degrees of vision and experience with the sport, as one member began playing at just 12 years-old, while others joined the team after coming to college. Fagan has been coaching goalball since 1990, and has taught at every level from youth to Paralympic teams. With the designation of the Goalball Club as an official organization, Fagan hopes that the awareness of this disability sport continues to grow and that other universities will follow suit and form their own goalball teams.
“We’re getting recognition for a disability sport and understanding that it can be inclusive too,” Fagan said. “We have people with and without disabilities on the team and the goal of putting the Goalball Club on the university’s map is so that we can educate more colleges so that we can grow and there will eventually be goalball clubs like there are hockey teams. We’re trying to take a disability sport and make it more mainstream.”
The push to have athletics for students with disabilities become more accessible came after the publication of a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Education in 2013 which stated that individuals at the collegiate level need to have more opportunities to become involved on campus. With the efforts from the club to gain recognition and after the inception of the tournament, Slippery Rock is attempting to move closer to the goal of creating opportunities for students with disabilities outside the classroom.
“We want to make sure that there are opportunities for every kid regardless of what their ability level is,” Fagan said.
Another reason why there has been a movement to get more recognition for the club is because of the team’s most seasoned player, sophomore recreational therapy major and adapted physical activity minor and president of the Goalball Club, Calahan Young, 20, who has been coached by Fagan since joining the VIP Sports program when he was 12 years old. Young has since traveled nationally and internationally with Fagan to compete and went on to win two youth national championships and is now a member of the U.S. national goalball team. Young recently tried out to be on the team for an international competition being held later this year.
“I tried out for the 2015 Parapan Am Games in Toronto,” Young said. “There will be Olympic and Paralympic athletes there and the cool thing is that it’s not just goalball, all of the quadriplegic athletes, everyone will be there.”
But before he can compete at the games in Toronto in August, he’ll be travelling with the club which is taking two teams to Vancouver to compete this weekend, in part, because of the support from the College of Education, the Recreational Therapy Club and the Slippery Rock Lions. Because the athletes all have varying degrees of vision, players wear blindfolds while competing on the volleyball-sized court where athletes use a ball the size of a basketball to roll across the court to outscore their opponent.
“There are three people on each side of the court, a center and two wings, and everyone wears blindfolds,” Young said. “You have a ball the size of a basketball with bells in it and there are strings taped to the floor on each side and you have to roll the ball like a bowling ball while opponents slide on their hands and knees to stop it.”
Senior recreational therapy major and adapted physical activity minor Shannon Russell, 22, serves as the club’s secretary and will also be making the journey to Vancouver with Fagan, Young and the other members of the team after working with the team two nights a week for the last year, learning the fundamentals of the game.
“We do agility training, blocking drills to work on diving left and right and the proper placement for your feet and hands, drills focusing on throwing, and we play practice games,” Russell said. “We do a lot of drills that focus on endurance. You’re typically on your hands and knees throughout the game, and each player has a unique position.”
Russell also hopes that after the club competes in the tournament this weekend that goalball’s popularity continues to rise and that one day the opportunity will present itself for a tournament between east coast and west coast teams to take place. In the meantime, her outlook on the tournament this weekend is positive and wants to come back to SRU victorious.
“We’re hoping to come out of this with the weekend with the trophy,” Russell said.
The SRU Goalball Club currently practices on Wednesday night from 7-9 p.m. and on Thursday from 7:30-9:30 p.m. in East Gym.