Louisiana’s School for Visually Impaired competes nationally for the first time

BATON ROUGE — After years of getting introduced to the sport during physical education classes, the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired (LSVI) in Baton Rouge, competed in goalball on the national stage for the first time.

Goalball is a sport that is popular worldwide among the blind and visually impaired. It originated in 1946 as a way to keep WWII veterans physically active. Goalball is played competitively in 112 countries, according to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes.

LSVI has a girls and boys goalball team composed of high school-aged kids. The teams competed in matches against the Mississippi School for the Blind before competing in the USABA National High School Goalball Championship Tournament in Austin, Texas, in early November.

“It was our kids’ first real opportunity to play in a tournament,” said LSVI coach Jennifer Gaudet. “We were excited for our first wins. There was some really good competition. We had five girls on our team this year and six boys on the boys team.”

Goalball is the first complete team sport the LSVI has competed in. The school has track and field, powerlifting, and wrestling, but all those have an individualized component.

In goalball, two teams of three players each face each other across a court similar to the size of a volleyball court. All players are blindfolded. The object is to roll a basketball-sized ball with bells inside it over the opponent’s goal line. The opponents listen for the ball and attempt to block it with their bodies. If they can stop the ball, that team becomes the offensive team.

The gym has complete silence while the game is going on to allow the athletes to hear the ball. Once a goal is scored, the crowd can cheer. The referee will call for silence before the game resumes.

“The ball is rolled in a similar motion like bowling, but there are different types of rolls,” Gaudet explained. “You can do a spin roll and bounce roll. I mean speeds of up to 30 to 40 miles an hour. They’re throwing this basketball-like ball at you, and basically, you are getting in front of it and blocking it with your body, and you’re trying to defend your goal, you know, and not let that ball get in. This really allows them to play in a team sport environment, and they love it.”

Gaudet said both teams combined to score 50 goals in 10 games.

“It definitely was an amazing experience,” she said. “It was the first time a lot of our kids had even traveled out of state and for all of our kids really one of the first times that they were in a tournament setting where we had a game, and we had to sit and wait for our next game, so that was definitely fun for them.”

The tournament marked the end of the season, but Gaudet said they haven’t stopped playing. She teaches the sport to elementary and middle school students during PE time. The preparation has already begun for next season, which starts in August.

“What we’re trying to do here is build our program and create awareness for the sport because most people have never heard of goalball before or have never seen a game,” Gaudet stated. “I just want to get the word out there about the sport. Maybe there’s a kid up in north Louisiana or who lives in south Louisiana who is blind or visually impaired, and they don’t know about the sport. We’re just trying to reach everyone and build Louisiana’s program.”

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