BERKELEY, Calif. — Growing up blind, the closest Ann Kwong came to a competitive sport, even in P.E., was a marshmallow-eating contest. Judith Lung never learned how to throw a ball.
“I never knew what it was like to block a ball and take one for the team,” said Kwong, a senior psychology major at the University of California, Berkeley.
Now she does. And it happens to be a nearly 3-pound rubber ball with bells inside that she can hear only as it comes bouncing and jingling toward her at as fast as 30 mph.
College sports teams are all but off-limits to those with disabilities, but UC Berkeley hopes to pry open the door with goalball, a bruising and sometimes bloody sport in which sightless players rely on sound, touch, communication and grit to hurl a sphere roughly the size of a basketball across an 18-meter court, past three opponents and into their goal.
Last fall, Cal became the first in the nation to establish a competitive collegiate goalball team, less than two years after teaching students, both blind and sighted, how to play.
Its advocates hope the coming years will lead to the kinds of inroads for those with disabilities that the Title IX anti-gender-discrimination law did for women — who, as late as the 1960s, were relegated to half-court basketball.
“I would argue that this is one of the civil rights issues of the 21st century,” said Derek Van Rheenen, goalball’s faculty sponsor, who directs UC Berkeley’s Cultural Studies of Sport in Education in the Graduate School of Education.
Between 35 and 50 students who are blind attend the university, said Matt Grigorieff, a graduate student who founded Cal’s Athletics for All to include people with disabilities in recreational and competitive sports.
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