Class is in session: Goalball DeCal provides opportunity

Photo of Goalball from September 2014
Ariel Hayat/File

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Sports are often recognized as a universal language because of their ability to bring people together regardless of background. While sports such as basketball and soccer are all widely known, perhaps no game strikes home the true purpose of sports quite as well as goalball. People with blindness or visual impairments often get the short end of the stick when it comes to sports, but goalball works around this issue by having people of all abilities wear blackout eye shades during competition.

Inclusivity is a term that’s usually not intertwined with sports, but some progress has been made. Universities such as UC Berkeley, which has more than 3,000 community members with disabilities, offer inclusive recreational sports such as wheelchair basketball, goalball and yoga. UC Berkeley is first in a lot of categories, and it continued this trend with its goalball DeCal. Goalball has been a Paralympic sport since 1976, but it did not make its arrival to Berkeley until 2013.

Matt Grigorieff, a graduate student with a congenital leg disorder, alongside members of the Disabled Students Association, established UC Berkeley’s goalball DeCal, making Cal the first U.S. university to offer goalball as a class for credit. By 2015, UC Berkeley had the first competitive collegiate goalball team.

UC Berkeley’s goalball DeCal is especially unique among its inclusive recreational sports because it brings together students who would typically not play sports with each other. Vision is not a factor in this sport, so goalball requires all players to have elevated levels of court awareness, whether that be through touch or sound. Moreover, goalball is often compared to soccer, but with only three players to a side, every player is much more dependent on one another.

Players utilize masking tape that lines the court perimeters to enhance their court awareness. Similar to soccer, players must try to score the ball in goals, but instead of using their feet, players use an underhand technique to throw, roll or bounce the ball. The ball can go as fast as 40 mph — to block these attempts, the defense players lay on their sides with their arms stretched out.

The goalball course not only aims to give students a sweat but also to dive into the nuances of goalball. The course requires students to comprehend goalball’s rules and a regulation handbook while understanding how to best apply their physical skills to game strategies. The course is no pushover — students learn the material through written work, active participation and guest speakers. Assigned readings must be completed before each class, and active participation is required in discussion. There are also quizzes based on class readings. By building off the previous class each week, the course eventually works to get students game-ready.

Beyond sports such as goalball, there are multiple programs that work to integrate members with disabilities into sports, such as the Cal Sports, Training and Recreation, or STAR, program and Accessible Wellness and Empowerment, or AWE. The Cal STAR program is meant to accommodate students, faculty, alumni and community members’ specific needs in order for them to participate in recreational programs; a grant from the Wellness Initiative Fee Advisory Committee allows the AWE program to offer free personal training for students with disabilities.

Aside from being a fun learning experience, UC Berkeley’s goalball DeCal offers much more: It allows students of all abilities and backgrounds to interact with each other and provides students with disabilities the much-deserved equal opportunity to play sports.

Goalball is not a modified or “watered-down” version of any sport, and it’s here to stay.

Justin Kim writes about the NBA for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].