Reverse dodgeball 

Premier visually impaired athletes in town for national goalball championship

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The objectives in goalball are the same as in many other sports get the ball in the other team's goal, stop them from getting it into yours. What makes this sport distinct is that the players can't see the goals.

Invented after World War II to keep visually impaired veterans fit, goalball is the only sport specifically developed for the blind. A ball similar to a basketball, except heavier, more supple and with bells inside so players can hear it, is thrown from one side of the court at the goal on the other side; players try to block the ball from entering the goal with their bodies. It's like dodgeball in reverse.

While the general public may not be aware the sport even exists, competition runs from the club level all the way to the Paralympic Games.

Colorado Springs' own Robin Theryoung and the rest of the U.S. women's goalball team recently left for an international tournament in Sweden. When she returns, she'll rejoin the Colorado Bandits to vie for the national club championship, which will be held in Colorado Springs from June 8 through 10. The Bandits are looking to reclaim the title from the Michigan Chaos.

"On the women's side, Colorado and Michigan kinda go back and forth [as national champions]," she says. "It's our turn this year, hopefully."

Until discovering goalball at age 14, she had no outlet for being competitive.

"I can't catch a ball, and that's what sports really focus on: hand-eye coordination," she says. "I thought that was not going to be a part of my life.

"I was hooked right away [on goalball]."

To compensate for varying degrees of visual acuity, while also making the game accessible to those with sight, the athletes are required to wear blacked-out ski goggles. Players take up three positions: two wings and a center. The wing, which Theryoung plays, is more often an offensive position. The game is fast and physical, with games lasting 45 minutes, and there are offensive strategies to scoring, like silencing the bell.

"If you switch positions with your fellow wing, and they have a faster or even different throw than you, and the other team doesn't necessarily know that that switch has occurred, then you can ... catch them by surprise."

Theryoung and the women's U.S. goalball team took silver in the 2004 Athens Paralympics and gold in the 2002 World Championships. She says that over the 10 years she's been competing, the game has grown faster and more competitive. She trains daily at the Olympic Training Center, but she also plays dodgeball in the Colorado Springs recreational league.

"It's sort of funny to play both," Theryoung says. capsule

2006 Goalball National Championships

Colorado Springs School for the Deaf and Blind, 33 N. Institute St.

June 8, 6-9 p.m.; June 9, 8 a.m. to noon, 1-6 p.m.; June 10, 8 a.m. to noon, finals at 2 p.m.

Free and open to the public; call 630-0422 for more.

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