WMU News

Paralympic goalball teams have strong WMU connection

Sept. 17, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Nine of 16 blind athletes representing the United States in this month's Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, have connections to Western Michigan University.

In addition, U.S. goalball men's team head coach John Bakos is a recent graduate of the WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies. He is joined by nine goalball athletes who are current WMU students or graduates, attended sports camps at WMU or work at the University.

The women's team has the strongest ties to WMU and is favored to bring home the gold medal. Team members with local connections are: Robin Theryoung, a WMU graduate student and native of Clarkston, Mich.; Nikki Buck, a Paw Paw, Mich., resident who attended WMU sports camps; Jennifer Armbruster, a project manager in blindness and low vision studies; Asya Miller, a Battle Creek, Mich., resident and WMU graduate and member of the track team; and Jessie Lorenz, who lives in California, but learned the sport at WMU sports camps. They are joined by team alternates Lindsay Sloan and Jackie Barnes of Illinois, who also learned goalball at WMU sports camps.

The men's team includes WMU sophomore and former sports camper Tyler Merren of Kalamazoo, Mich., and team alternate Joe Hamilton, a former sports camper and recent WMU graduate.

The Paralympics officially open Friday, Sept. 17. Preliminary goalball competition began Sept. 14.

The strong representation from the local area on the teams is credited to Dr. Paul Ponchillia, chairperson of the WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies. A longtime promoter of sports education for athletes with visual impairments, Ponchillia initiated a goalball program in Kalamazoo and founded an annual sports education camp for youths with visual impairments. A goalball player himself, Ponchillia's enthusiasm for the sport is infectious. Many athletes with visual impairments, previously excluded from most team sports, are often hooked on goalball once they learn to play it at WMU's sports camps. Many teachers who enroll in a WMU course aimed at showing how to involve children with visual impairments in regular physical education and sports began organizing teams around Michigan.

Goalball is a team sport played by blind and visually impaired athletes around the world. A team of three athletes on each side of the court aims to launch a ball at speeds of more than 30 mph into the opposing side's goal on an indoor volleyball-sized court. All athletes are blindfolded to create a state of total blackness, and four bells encased in a ball the size of a basketball help the athletes track its location. Blocking the ball involves a full body dive in front of its path to prevent a goal.

The Paralympics is the second largest sporting event in the world, conceding top honors only to the Olympics. The multi-sport competition showcases the talents and abilities of the world's most elite athletes with physical disabilities. The games feature 21 sports, 18 of which are also contested in the Olympics. The U.S. Paralympics are officially a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

For the first time in history, disabled athletes trained in residence this year at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Theryoung, Buck, and Armbruster trained as full-time resident athletes at the center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
269 387-8400