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Metro Parks Tacoma Helps Blind Athletes Hit Goals

Tacoma Metro Parks’ Goal Ball team competed in their first Division 1 tournament last month in Vancouver, WA. Goalball is a sport for the blind or visually impaired, and the Division 1 is the upper level of US Goalball competition. The Tacoma Typhoon team started in 2011, after Metro Parks Tacoma received a grant to help bring more adaptive sports to the Tacoma area.

At the moment there are five players on the team, all with varying levels of visual impairment. Going to this tournament was a team goal, and although they fell short of the finals, the Typhoons felt it was a great experience playing against teams from Omaha, Seattle and British Columbia. Honda Sau, who works for the Pierce County Human Services division, was the first player to join the team in 2011. Honda says, “Goalball helps me with my mobility off the court, and it’s a great way to stay in shape. I really like the competitive nature of the game. There is an entire Goalball community out there and it’s great to get together with players from all around the US and Canada to play this sport.” The Typhoons practice nine months a year, switching between the Star Center and the New Gray Middle School in South Tacoma, and are always looking for new players.

The game is played on a volley ball court with three members of each team on opposite ends of the court facing off as 2 wings and a center. To level the playing field between totally blind participants and players with partial sight, each team member must wear eye shades. There is a netted goal behind the players that spans the width of the court. After winning a coin toss, a team starts with the ball and rolls it down the court, trying to score a goal by putting the ball in the opponents net for one point. The ball is rolled, never tossed or kicked. Players block the ball with their bodies and then quickly return it. At the end of two twelve minute halves, the team with the most points wins.

The ball weighs around 2.8 lbs, is about the size of a basketball and has bells inside of it that help players track it as it rolls across the court at speeds up to 35 mph. To guide players to their positions and help keep the ball in bounds, the court has thin ropes taped to the floor that tactically mark the positions, play areas and court boundaries. Two referees moderate the game, calling penalties and when the ball is in play.

Goalball’s roots started with helping blind World War II veterans. Needing a game to help rehabilitate veterans who had lost their sight, Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle started the game in 1946. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s the sport went from an activity used to help disabled Veterans to a competitive sport. In 1976 it appeared as an officially sanctioned Para Olympic sport, and the first world championships where held just two years later in Austria in 1978. Since that time, the sport has spread worldwide. According to the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSF) it is played in all IBSF regions around the world.

Metro Parks Tacoma partners with the Northwest Federation of Blind Athletes to host a Division Two Goalball tournament each October. Teams from Canada, and as far away as Alabama, compete in what has come to be known as “The South Sound Throw down.” Local volunteers are always needed to help facilitate the tournament. The Typhoons coach Heidi Herriott says, “This is a really unique sport. Coaching these guys has been a lot of fun. Anyone who would like to play or volunteer can contact Metro Parks Tacoma. It is always great to have new people come out to learn about Goalball.”

Photos by Sierra Hartman

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