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By Jean Robinson, Family Support Specialist, TSBVI Visually Impaired Outreach

Abstract: This article is the first in a series of articles that will be featured in this year's See/Hear focusing on elements of the expanded core curriculum. This article examines the benefits of working on recreation and leisure skills for students with visual impairments and deafblindness and offers some resources for parents and teachers.

Key Words: sports, recreation, leisure, athlete, blind, deafblind

I have wondered why anyone would choose to play sports. I hate to sweat, and even as a spectator, I feel bad for the losers. I identify with them, as I have little athletic ability. In high school I dreaded P.E. class and looked for excuses not to participate. During the early 70s it was easy for a female to graduate without having to endure much physical activity.

Thirty years later I have to admit that my limited participation in physical activity and team sports in my youth hindered my progress in developing skills that are useful in becoming a successful adult. Qualities such as self-confidence, determination, courage, persistence, openness, fairness, patience, and respect are hard to understand and develop without experiencing them. Participating in team and individual sports is a wonderful way to develop these qualities while having a great time with your family, other students, and within your community.

Yes, a child with blindness or low vision can become an athlete. It usually requires systematically teaching specific skills that others pick up by watching. It also requires having the opportunity to use those skills over and over again in order to develop competence. The biggest obstacle is not the blindness but the missed opportunities, due to preconceived notions, stereotypes, and attitudes.

Photo of
Track event at Sports Camp on the
TSBVI Campus.

Thirty-four students with significant vision loss from across Texas did not miss their opportunity to discover their hidden talents during two Sports Camps held during TSBVI summer school. These camps were made possible through a 2-year grant from the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) administered through the Department of Blindness & Low Vision at Western Michigan University (WMU). The goals of the camps are to introduce a variety of sports available for students with blindness and to teach specific skills to encourage their participation in their local school and community activities, alongside their sighted peers.

The program is modeled after the Sports Education Camps for Visually Impaired and Blind Youth developed by Dr. Paul Ponchillia at WMU. A major objective is to train pre-professionals, regular education teachers, and especially PE/APE teachers on how students with visual impairments can and should participate in physical education, athletics, and community recreation programs in their local districts. The Senior Camp for 13-18-year-olds involves track and field, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling, bowling, and goalball. The Elementary Camp for 10-12-year-olds involves an introduction to running, throwing, jumping, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling, and goalball.

This first year many of the students were signed up for Sports Camp by their parents and were not looking forward to participating. They had bad experiences when it came to sports. The students' preconceived notions about sports were obvious from their answers on a pretest. They included: I never love sports; I never feel that I am better in sports than most kids my age; I never consider myself a good athlete. Other comments were: I am picked on in regular gym class; I am not treated like everyone else; and I don't participate in gym class with my friends.

During the weekend camps each student had one-on-one time to learn and practice new skills. The camps concluded with competitive events. I was amazed at the effort these students made on a hot summer day. The most rewarding result was seen on their faces when volunteers and family members yelled their encouragement as they completed their events. The post-tests substantiate the feelings of camaraderie and success. Their perceptions changed to: I love sports; I am better in sports than most kids my age; and I consider myself a good athlete. Most reported that they learned how to change a sport so they could participate. Many believed they could participate in sports offered in their local school and community. Almost all the participants wanted to return to Sports Camp next summer to improve on their athletic skills and have the opportunity to compete with others who have limited vision.

Hunter Mouton, a good-looking 16-year-old, discovered the fun of competing on a goalball team and wants to get a team together in the Houston area. He was so pumped up from his experience at the Senior Sports Camp that he returned to volunteer at the Elementary Sports Camp along with his dad, David. His mom, Suzanna, had these comments about the Senior Sports Camp:

I really thought it was one of the neatest things TSBVI has done during the summer. Camp Challenge was good, but the sports camp hit home because it was activities the kids could take back into their schools. My son hated swimming strokes and swore he couldn't do it. At sports camp he not only swam, but liked it! I felt like sports camp gave him the opportunity to experience some sports he never would have thought of participating in before. The other kids were so excited. I was very pleased to have been there. My husband also really enjoyed the Elementary Sports Camp. I' m a goal ball fan now!

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Hunter or his parents, Suzanna and David Mouton, by phone 281-955-7066 or email .

What are your preconceived ideas of what your child can do? Have you ever met or read about a blind skier, wrestler, ice skater, or golfer? If not, take time to read a previous See/Hear article about Rebecca Soto from San Antonio who is totally blind www.tsbvi.edu/Outreach/seehear/spring02/ski.htm . After applying for a scholarship to attend an outdoor sports program for persons with disabilities, she fell in love with downhill skiing and now is training for the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team.

USABA trains blind and visually impaired athletes in nine sports---alpine and nordic skiing, goalball, judo, power lifting, swimming, tandem cycling, track and field, and wrestling. Top athletes are selected to become part of Team USA and are eligible to compete in the Paralympics. The Paralympics are a multi-sport, multi-disability competition of elite, world-class, disabled athletes. Sponsorships are available through such organizations as USABA. Read about the opportunities at www.usaba.org or call (719) 630-0422.

Power lifting is another sport wide open for blind athletes. Cody Colchado, Jr. is a national and world champion power lifter. Cody's motto is, Adversity causes some men to break, and others to break records. He was born deaf and due to an injury lost his vision. He continued to play football his senior year of high school, relying on cues from his teammates. To read how he faced his challenges go to http://www.houseofpainironwear.com/makemefamous/cody_colchado.htm.

I encourage you to educate yourself about the opportunities available and let your school district and regional service center know about your interest in sports, recreation and leisure activities. Most high schools have wrestling teams. The only modification needed for UIL competitive wrestling is for the participants to "touch start" and maintain contact during a match. The TSBVI wrestling team competes with other high school wrestling teams in the Austin area. Students with a visual impairment have the opportunity to go to regional playoffs just like their sighted peers. If you want to see them in action go to our website www.tsbvi.edu and enter keyword "wrestling" to find their schedule and past pictures.

Another opportunity is Sports Extravaganza held in the fall in the Dallas area. This event is open to children and youth with visual impairments. It has activities and competitions for all ages --- toddlers to teens. To read more about experiences from previous participants do a website search using these article titles on the TSBVI website: "Goalball Highlights Third Annual Sports Extravaganza," "My Day at Sports Extravaganza," "A Proud Mom," and "A Proud Athlete." Links to information about Sports Extravaganza can be found on the VI Supplemental Services page of the ESC Region 10 website http://www2.ednet10.net/ssvi/Vision.htm.   You many also contact Kitra Gray at (972) 348-1580 or Randy Foederer at (972) 348-1570 to request information.