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Goalball a sport to cheer about, but not during play

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Stories from the Heartland

By John Friedlein

You know how you’re supposed to be quiet before a golfer hits the ball, but you can shout all you want as it rolls along the green toward the hole?

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Quiet is essential with goalball too, but more so. The audience has to zip-it until the action is over. That’s because three blindfolded players defending a long, low goal need to listen intently to the muted jingling of bells inside a rubber ball. If an opposing thrower rolls it past them, score one for the other team.

“When we first watched Dalton play, it was real hard to not cheer,” said John Novince, who coaches his son’s goalball team.

Dalton Novince and Brooke Berger, both from Elizabethtown, competed against one another Saturday in the Kentucky Association of Blind Athletes Invitational in Louisville.

Novince, a 19-year-old University of Louisville student, taught Berger how to play. They practice together and play on the same team sometimes. But a traveling team of girls from Georgia adopted Berger, who is a junior at the Kentucky School for the Blind. (Kentucky has no girls' team.)

It’s more intense to play goalball with the guys, who throw harder. Berger, 17, said she likes participating in co-ed matches better.

“I’m a tough girl,” she said.

During a match, the defending players – who without the blindfolds are visually impaired to varying degrees – line up on the floor in front of the their goal before the other team throws. They get their bearings by feeling pieces of taped-down rope.

“I’ve never had such bad orientation (that) I’m facing the goal as they’re throwing at me,” said Berger, who wore a jersey with orange flames. “You have to practice and learn where the lines are.”

The defenders spread out their bodies as they slide across the floor to block shots.

“Anything in goalball is defense first; they can’t win if they can’t score on you,” Dalton Novince said.

For the offense, he said the strategy is: “Basically, hit the gaps.”

Novice, who spins around before releasing the ball, was one of the more powerful throwers during Saturday’s competition at the Kentucky School for the Blind. His team, the KABA Thoroughbreds, won the tournament.

A graduate of the school, Novince has played goalball for five years. Two years ago in Colorado, he was a member of a U.S. junior national goalball team that won a gold medal in the IBSA World Youth and Student Championships.

John Novince also said Berger has advanced a lot. “Her defense is excellent.”

Novince said he wants to raise interest in the sport, which started after World War II to help visually impaired veterans be more active. Since then, it has evolved into a worldwide sport that is part of the Paralympics every four years.

For more information
Go to www.facebook.com/people/Ky-Blind-Athletes-Kaba/100000249002497, or www.kaba-online.org/.
 

John Friedlein’s Stories from the Heartland column appears Mondays in The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at jfriedlein@ thenewsenterprise.com.