The sound and the fury

Blind and visually-impaired athletes give it their all in goalball


Victor Cristales

Paulina Diaz serves the ball against the opposing goalball players during practice Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Goalball is a sport designed for the blind and visually impaired, in which they must listen for the sound of the ball and block it with their bodies. The Red Oak team practices every other Saturday at Schupmann Elementary.

The gym is as silent as night.

There are no interruptions, until you hear the — screeeeeech! — of the coach’s whistle and the — pow! — of the ball crashing against your opponent’s body.

No, it’s not war. It’s goalball, a sport especially designed for blind and visually-impaired athletes, in which a ball that jingles is rolled by a player on one team while the other team attempts to block it with their body. There is a team that practices in Red Oak, each player with a different personality and goalball experience.

One of the players, Rabia Sari, came from Turkey to play in America for one year. But Sari isn’t new to goalball; in fact, she’s been playing since middle school.

“When I was in 5th grade, my teacher told me, ‘Let’s play,’ and then we had a team,” she said. “I don’t know, I actually didn’t like it the first time, I was like, ‘I don’t want to play.’ And then my teacher told me, ‘You have to play, it’s a good game.’ And then I played, and the second time, third time, I liked it.”

Although Sari has been playing for six years, there is one major thing she strongly dislikes about playing goalball in Turkey.

“Sometimes, we were playing with the boys’ team, and they’re really crazy,” she laughed.

But some players, like 18-year-old Libby Daugherty, enjoy playing with and against boys.

“The girls were already filled up, but there was no center for the boys’ team, so they needed an extra player,” she said. “It was a way higher level of play, and I loved the competition.”

Daugherty has a friendly heart and athletic personality, and goalball only encourages it.

“It gives me a chance to play on a team with other kids, and I love playing sports,” she said. “I can’t play football or baseball, so this is something I get to do. I like how we get to play as a team and get to know each other, and we’ve become so close because we have to work so closely together on a team.”

Although Daugherty has been playing for four years, there is one game she will never forget.

“We were playing one of the hardest teams we’ve ever played, and I was very worried for one of my teammates who was very nervous to play against this team,” Daugherty said. “And she blocked a really hard ball, and she was terrified, but she did so great, and was so proud of herself, and for the rest of the tournament, she played amazing just because of that one moment in the game. That’s always stuck with me because that’s how I learned to let go and just enjoy it. I conquered my fears, and it helped me learn to love goalball.”

Daugherty’s father, Shawn Daugherty, is the coach of the team. It’s because of his two children, Libby and Steven, that he started coaching in the first place.

“I just love sports and my kids were playing, so I just decided to get involved,” he said.

Coaching goalball can’t be done without the proper setting, which often frustrates Daugherty. He found the perfect place at Donald T. Shields Elementary, but the tornado that destroyed the school Dec. 26 crushed that idea. He currently practices at the gym of Shupmann Elementary. But it’s too big and echoey and noisy.

“With goalball, you know, you require an indoor, enclosed facility for the quiet, and we lack the availability of such a facility, so that limits time and opportunities I have to  practice and coach,” he said. “Part of my challenge is with my athletes, many of [them] being completely blind, finding different techniques to teach them what I want them to learn and sometimes having difficulty finding the best techniques to do that.”

Whether blind or visually impaired, Daugherty only expects one thing from his players: effort.

“I expect them to give 100 percent, and just take the information and techniques that I teach them and use them to their best ability,” he said. “And just continue to reach for success.”