Goalball finds its target
Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped competed in the North Central Association of Schools for the Blind Conference Goalball Tournament this past weekend. Boys and girls teams from nine states played at Janesville Parker High School.
Dylan Hope of Stevens Point, Colton Albrecht of Monona, Charles Burke of Sheboygan, Billy Dracsic and Zachary Moes, both from Kenosha, and Paul Kowald of Appleton represented the WSVH boys team.
Lizzy Fielder of Fontana, Ann Buroker of Janesville, and Samantha Rutkowski of Saxon represented the WSVH girls team.
Illinois defeated Kansas, 11-1, for the boys championship. Indiana defeated Kentucky in a 1-0 thriller for the girls title.
Goalball is played in an area slightly larger than a volleyball court. Three players—a center and two wings—guard a netted goal area about the size of side-by-side soccer goals.
A ball about the size of basketball is alternately rolled in a bowling motion toward an opponent’s goal and the defenders stretch across the goal area to block the shot. The game is played in two 10-minute halves.
All players wear ski-type goggles that are totally blacked out with tape. Players slap the floor to communicate their position and the ball is rolled on feel and defended totally on sound before a hushed audience.
Goalball was invented after World War II in Europe by recreation therapists as an activity for blind veterans. Organized goalball is played exclusively by blind athletes and is played in 30 countries.
Marty Mulhern is in his fourth year coaching WSVH goalball. Mulhern said there has been steady improvement.
“We’ve gotten better,” Mulhern said. “We won one game my first year, two my second and four my third and five this year.”
The WSVH boys lost in sudden-death overtime, 16-15, to Ohio and were eliminated from the double-elimination tournament.
“It was a heart-breaker,” Mulhern said. “It was probably the best game I’ve ever been a part of.’’
Mulhern said goalball is about feel and touch.
“It takes a lot of work and being out there to get a feel for where everything is,” Mulhern said. “Before you throw the ball, you ask the center where to throw the ball.’’
The players have to break the court down in their head when making a shot.
“You break the shooting area into five spaces,” Mulhern said. “Three is in the center, and the basic adage is a throw to three is a wasted throw. The center is going to be the best defensive guy you are going to be up against.’’
Each playing venue requires preparation.
“When you orient a team to a new space, you want to get used to the room,” Mulhern said. “You get kids into their position and you bounce the ball around them so they can get a feel for how it sounds when it’s coming.’’
Tony Connelly, a computer engineer from Milwaukee who officiated the conference tournament, has worked adult goalball tournaments throughout the United States.
“Everybody is at the same level because they are all blindfolded,” Connelly said. “It’s how they work as a team, and how they call out to each other and the use of their other senses that make the game so special.’’
Top-notch players can roll the ball up to 40 miles per hour at the Paralympics level. All the players wear padded hockey shorts.
“There are some incredible throwers, Connelly said. “There are big-muscle guys, and there are people that are really agile.’’
Strength matters, but it’s the subtle touch that counts.
“It has a lot of technique,” Connelly said. “It has a lot of strategy.”