Unique sports tournament shines light on disabilities


Nineteen intramural teams stretched, put on kneepads and talked strategy Friday in the USF Campus Recreation Center. 

Players blinded themselves with blackened goggles and lay on the basketball court floor to guard a goal. When the whistle blew, the second annual Disability Awareness Month Goalball Tournament began.

The event was meant to connect disabled and able-bodied students through the sport for the visually impaired and blind, thus raising empathy for the disability. 

“It’s a great way for able-bodied students to experience something different,” said Jason Werle, the assistant director of intramural sports and sport clubs.

Goalball consists of three blindfolded players on each team. A ball filled with bells is thrown at a low level and has to hit the ground by a certain point otherwise there is a penalty. 

The players stay close to or lay on the ground in strategic positions to block the ball. If the ball makes its way past the players into the goal, the other team gets a point.

Campus recreation and the sports clubs teamed up with Students with Disability Services to create the annual event. The plan was to pick a different disabled sport every year. A few years ago the event featured sitting volleyball.

After the high popularity of goalball last year, they decided to bring it back, Werle said. 

“Last year it got really, really competitive,” said Associate Director of Students with Disabilities Services Raquel Pancho. 

The visually impaired students who participated in the tournament enjoyed feeling normal, said Amanda Furr, a visually impaired student majoring in sociology and communication. 

“It really brings awareness that blind people can play sports,” Furr said. 

Students who were not visually impaired had a harder time with the game. They said the sport becomes difficult once the sense of sight is taken away. 

“It’s a lot more disorienting than you’d think it was,” said James Cavanaugh, a senior majoring in history. 

Though Cavanaugh’s co-ed team lost early on, his men’s team continued on. 

“I felt very discombobulated,” said Kathy Ridyard, a business management major and a member of Cavanaugh’s team. 

The team felt out of its element while playing. 

Though it is not an extremely physical sport, it is a skillful and strategic one, Cavanaugh said. 

Players have to make the decision on how to position the blockers lying down or whether or not just to dive for the ball while kneeling. 

Cavanaugh also said players try to aim for the corners, but that is hard when you don’t know where the ball is going. 

“We have kind of an advantage,” Furr said. 

She and David DeLacure, a microbiology major, played goalball together at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and won gold medals in the sport. 

As the seeing-students struggled to block the ball or were hit in the gut or face as it rolled up to them, they refused to give up, and the game became more competitive as the night went on.

“We’ll train them,” DeLacure said while watching other students play.

At the end of the tournament, Delta Gamma Alpha claimed victory in the women’s division, Delta Chi won the men’s division and Kick It to the Fat Kid won the co-ed division.

The goalball tournament was the last USF event celebrating Disability Awareness Month, a month that included a lecture by performance artist Anita Hollander who continues to sing and dance despite losing one of her legs to cancer.

Students with Disabilities Services will also partner with the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs wheelchair basketball team to bring a wheelchair basketball tournament to USF in the spring.