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WMU well represented on U.S. goalball teams at Paralympics

Aug. 28, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University students, alumni and others with WMU ties are headed to Beijing to compete in the upcoming Paralympic Games.

WMU has strong ties to both the men's and women's goalball teams, with the men's team including two WMU students on its roster and the women's team having five players with WMU bonds.

Steve Denuyl and Tyler Merren, both WMU students, are on the men's team. Merren also competed on the U.S. team at 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

The women's team has five players with WMU ties. One team member, Jennifer Armbruster formerly worked in the WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies. She is joined by WMU graduates Asya Miller and Robyn Theryoung. Rounding out the women's team are Jaclyn Barnes and Jessica Lorenz, who both were introduced to goalball through sports camps held at WMU for athletes with visual impairments. All five were members of the U.S. team at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.

Paralympic goalball competition this year runs Sept. 7-14 at the Beijing Institute of Technology Gymnasium. The 13th Paralympic Games begin Sept. 6 and run through Sept. 17. To date, 480,000 tickets have been sold for the entire round of events.

The strong local representation on Paralympic goalball teams is credited to Dr. Paul Ponchillia, professor emeritus and former chairperson of the WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies. A longtime promoter of sports education for athletes with visual impairments and a goalball player himself, Ponchillia initiated a goalball program in Kalamazoo and founded an annual sports education camp for youths with visual impairments, which became a national model. Many athletes with visual impairments, previously excluded from most team sports, got hooked on goalball once they learned to play it at WMU's sports camps.

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.

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

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