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Joe Paschall heads the physical education department at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Photo by Beth Bond
Joe Paschall heads the physical education department at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
By Veronica Meewes

Marketing Publications Writer

Published: 9:58 a.m. Monday, Oct. 24, 2011

Joe Paschall can't walk down the hall of his school without being greeted by just about everyone who passes him.

"Hi, Coach!" one passing student said while a teacher glided by in the opposite direction with a cheery "Hey, Joe!"

Paschall takes it all in with a huge grin, responding to each salutation without missing an energetic stride.

"We're all family here, can't ya tell?" he remarks with a chuckle.

For the past 10 years, Paschall has been the head of the physical education department at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). He teaches nine classes a day to students ranging in age from 6 to 22. He is also the track and field coach and with the recent addition of a brand-new pool will soon begin coaching the school's swim team.

"I love my job," Paschall said. "I want (my students) to be confident ... that they can make little changes or learn a little differently and the outcome will be the same. I tell them that there's ... other ways to teach you the skills than vision."

Most of Paschall's students come to TSBVI with little to no experience playing sports. He uses multiple approaches to teach basic skills — from three-dimensional diagrams and charts to modeling and hand-under-hand guidance.

"It takes a lot of extra work to understand a sport and understand drills and understand — when you can't see a coach — exactly what you're supposed to be doing," he said. "So what I do is I overcompensate. ... I have a little scale of a football field and then I take them to a football field, let them climb the goal posts. Take them to a basketball court, let them walk the perimeters. Here at school, I go and get ladders and show them where the basket is. Because all it is is noise, especially if you're totally blind."

Paschall knows what kinds of challenges his students face because he too is legally blind. He was diagnosed with ocular albinism at birth, a condition that causes extreme light sensitivity and visual impairment. Paschall has never let that stop him from doing what he loves, succeeding and then reaching even higher. He credits support from his family with getting him where he is today.

"They're just pretty much sports fanatics," he said of his family. "It just never entered my mind that I couldn't do it because I'm visually impaired. I just did it."

Attending public schools with help from Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments, Paschall was involved in athletics throughout his youth. In high school, he became even more active, notably in football and track and field. He cites several of his football coaches at Mesquite High School as major inspirations, as well as Mike Woodward, the former head coach at TSBVI. While enrolled at the University of Texas, Paschall started going to TSBVI to practice under Woodward's supervision. He became a member of the United States Association of Blind Athletes and competed in track and field, skiing, swimming, tandem cycling and goal ball, an adapted sport for the blind.

"I felt accomplished and I felt confident in myself," Paschall said. "And it not only works on your health and your appearance but your emotional well-being, too."

Paschall remembers how hurtful it was when peers were mean to him as a child trying to play baseball. His experiences inform the lectures he gives to blind and visually impaired students in public schools.

"I always say your best revenge is your own success," he said. "Don't waste your energy having a comeback. Don't even think about them. You only think about what you want to do, what skill you want to learn."

These days, he's pursuing goals like cycling 1,100 miles across Russia. He finished fourth out of 78 athletes competing in an Ironman Triathlon.

"I have kids come in from public schools and I'll have them work on a skill and they go, ‘If I do this, will you not laugh at me?' And that kinda gets you here, you know?" he said, motioning toward his heart. "I go, ‘We don't laugh at people here. We're here to help people.'"