Student invites Purdue community to play goalball, an adaptive sport that’s welcome to all

Purdue student Sean Edwards rarely got to play sports as a kid. He was born with cataracts and glaucoma, and the retina of his right eye began to detach when he was just 9 years old. After performing two surgeries to keep Edwards’ retina from detaching further, doctors were still uncertain about the fragility of his eye condition. As a result, Edwards spent most gym classes watching from the sidelines, unable to participate in any physical activity that could jostle his head.

Things changed in high school when a teacher introduced Edwards to an adaptive sport called goalball, a three-on-three team game with elements of soccer, hockey and bowling. The sport requires players to wear blindfolds as they take turns rolling a ball toward the opposing team in an attempt to make a goal. Players use hand-ear coordination and the entire length of their bodies to block the ball—which is filled with bells—as it speeds toward the goal behind them. 

people playing goalball

Playing the game for the first time ignited something in Edwards. He discovered a competitive spirit that had long lain dormant. More than that, he felt exhilarated by a sport from which his low vision could not hold him back.

Now a junior at Purdue, Edwards aims to introduce the sport more broadly on campus and is recruiting staff, faculty and students to play. In 2015, he and his friend co-founded the Purdue Goalball student organization and even hosted a small tournament in April 2016 at the Co-Rec. Teams came from Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati. The only problem was that Purdue’s team didn’t have enough players to compete.

Edwards hopes to change that this year. He’s inviting all students, faculty and staff to the Purdue Goalball callout at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the upper gym at the Co-Rec, Court 1. No previous experience is required to play, and all are welcome—men and women, kids and adults, individuals with vision impairments and folks with perfect sight.

“I want people to know that goalball is not just for individuals who have vision loss,” says Edwards, who is studying sociology with an emphasis in critical disabilities studies. “Very few people have heard of goalball, and we want Purdue’s team to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. I love the game itself, but I also want to raise awareness about adaptive sports in general and how they can benefit our community at large.”

Goalball was invented in 1946 to help rehabilitate World War II veterans who had been blinded or sustained injuries to their vision during service. The game was introduced to the world during the 1976 Paralympics in Toronto, Canada, and has been played at every Paralympic since.

Eyeshades allow partially or fully sighted players to compete on an equal footing with players who are blind. Eyepatches also are worn under the eyeshades to ensure complete coverage of the eye, as well as prevent any vision should the eyeshades become dislodged.

Heidi Smart, who serves as the staff advisor for the Purdue Goalball team, says one of the most compelling aspects of goalball is the camaraderie that’s fostered when players try the sport for the first time.

“Because the game relies primarily on touch and hearing senses, it generates a unique set of challenges that many participants have not experienced before,” says Smart, an alternative formats coordinator in Purdue’s Disability Resource Center (DRC). “The worst part, from a spectator’s perspective, is not being able to cheer when the players have a good block, because the crowd needs to be quiet so the teams can hear where the ball is in play.”

To this day, Edwards’ doctors are still concerned about him playing any sport that could result in a hit to the head. Although there is that chance in goalball, Edwards says playing proper defense reduces the risk.

“I am aware of the risk,” he says. “At the same time, I’ve found something I can do despite my eyesight, and I’m not going to hold back just because of potential risk. I would rather work out, play goalball and risk losing my vision than sit back, be lazy and risk developing other health problems.”

Randall Ward, director of the DRC and associate director of Student Success Programs, says he and his colleagues at the DRC look forward to helping the Purdue Goalball student organization grow.

“Ultimately, I would like to see goalball become an established intramural sport offering at Purdue, and the DRC is working with Sean to help facilitate that,” he says.

Individuals who would like to learn more about goalball or are interested in playing may contact Edwards, or come to the callout on Sept. 28. 

Writer: Andrea Thomas, Communications Director for Student Success Programs, 765-496-3754,

Last updated: Sept. 21, 2016

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