By LISA CAPOBIANCO
When Chapter 126 first opened in Bristol, goalball was one of the first sports programs staff knew they wanted to offer members with visual impairments.
Now the new sports facility on Upson Street has an opportunity to do just that thanks to an equipment grant it recently received from the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes.
The grant will help Chapter 126 run a goalball program for adults and children.
“They sent us eyeshades, knee pads, chest protectors, elbow pads—enough to form one team,” said Adapted Sports Program Manager Stacia Cardillo. “With that, they want us to start running an actual season.”
Formed during the 1940s in Europe for World War II veterans with visual impairments, goalball became the first Paralympic sport by the 1980s, said Cardillo. With three people per team, players must roll a ball into the opponent’s goal. Bells are embedded in the ball, so players must rely on their hearing to know where the ball is coming from. They must block the ball before it enters the goal.
Cardillo said, although the game itself runs quickly and is a simple sport, it also is challenging, especially for players with a visual impairment.
“When you put a blindfold on…it’s a whole different world,” said Cardillo. “It gives you an idea what these players are up against. They cannot see a thing.”
Although goalball is a sport for people with visual impairments, Cardillo said the program is open to players with any kind of visual impairment, and they are not required to be completely blind.
She added that those who have their eyesight also are welcome to play.
“They could have any visual impairment,” said Cardillo. “If they have some sort of sight, they wear blindfolds or eyeshades. It is open to anyone to play.”
To date, two children and two adults have signed up for the team, and Chapter 126 is searching for more. This weekend, the sports facility will embark on a mission to find athletes to join the goalball team, which would be the first in Connecticut. Trials will take place Saturday morning for both the junior and adult teams at Chapter 126. The season will run from April 21 to June 30.
Since there are no other teams in Connecticut, the goalball teams at Chapter 126 would compete with other teams in other states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. Cardillo said goalball teams from other states are ready to add Chapter 126 to their schedule for games.
“They have all reached out to us and said, ‘we’re ready,’” said Cardillo.
Located at 47 Upson St., Chapter 126 Sports & Fitness is a state-of-the-art facility that aims to improve the health and wellness of youth, adults, veterans and seniors with physical disabilities, as well as their caregivers and families, according to the center’s website.
The first facility of its kind in New England, Chapter 126 offers specialized fitness and exercise equipment, sports programs, group exercise classes and a gym for adaptive sports. Certified trainers and strength and conditioning experts are available to help members in meeting their health and fitness goals. The facility was named after U.S. Code, Title 42, Chapter 126, which gives equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
“The best part is your giving these people with visual impairment an opportunity to play a sport,” said Cardillo. “We’re all about making sure that people with disabilities have an opportunity to play some sort of recreational sports program.”
Looking ahead, Chapter 126 also is looking to form adult wheelchair lacrosse and adult softball programs, as well as a beatball program.
“These programs are not offered in Connecticut, and we want to be the first facility to be able to offer these sports,” said Cardillo.
Chapter 126 will hold trials this Saturday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. for juniors and from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. for adults. Program fees are $125 for juniors and $135 for adults. Fees include one-year membership to USABA. For more information, contact Stacia Cardillo at (860) 769-3824 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO