Jacksonville will be home to a very unique sport today and tomorrow. The North Central Association of Schools For the Blind Goalball Conference Championship with 10 state schools for the blind and visually impaired will be competing for the top prize at ISD. Mansell says the reason they aren’t holding the event at ISVI is because of the size of the event and the number of teams coming in from several states to play.
ISVI Athletic Director Ken Mansell says the sport got started after World War II to help rehabilitate veterans who had lost their sight during the war. He says it’s transformed into the most popular sport for the blind and visually impaired community across the country: “The game is 3 people are on each side defending the entire court. The net, the goal is approximately the same size as a soccer net but a little longer. The athletes will roll [or throw] a ball, just slightly larger than a basketball down to the other end in hopes of getting past the defender. Unlike in every other sport, where you can whoop and holler and cheer your team on while action is being played, [in goalball] everybody is deathly quiet because the players that are on the court, regardless of their eyesight, they are blindfolded and they have to listen for the ball. The ball has got 3 bells inside. It’s unbelievable to watch these kids communicate with each other so they are not running into one another. There is a lot of different strategies, and what’s really impressive about it is that the players will throw that ball up to 30-35 miles per hour [at the opposing goal].”
Mansell encourages anyone who is even remotely curious to look up a goalball match on YouTube and watch. He says the athleticism by the competitors is absolutely amazing to witness: “Watch a video of a game and you’ll see how tremendous they are. You would swear with their constant focus and concentration that all the athletes have 20-20 eyesight because they can find that ball. Regardless of their eyesight – whether a little bit or totally blind – each player has got a blindfold on and it’s checked by the official of the match.”
Tonight’s games begin at 6PM at ISD, with tomorrow’s competition starting at 8:30AM.