Future Reflections Winter/Spring 1998, Vol. 17 No. 1

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What Do You Mean, She Can't Play Soccer?
by Carla McQuillan

Reprinted from Stepping Stones, A Multicultural Children's Magazine, Vol. 10, no. 1.

Editor's Note: Carla McQuillan is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon. She is also the volunteer director of child care services—NFB Camp—at the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind.

Jessica's family has always been involved in sports, particularly soccer. When Jessica was in the second grade and wanted to play soccer, her family was delighted. The coach and team were glad to have her, but before she could play, she and her family had to determine how she would get around the field.

Jessica has been totally blind since birth. She uses a white cane to walk everywhere—but that could be a hazard for the other players on the soccer field. She tried playing without assistance but didn't know which way to go and missed a lot of the game.

A teammate volunteered to hold Jessica's hand, giving verbal directions and a play-by-play description of the game. This worked beautifully. The coach was happy—the entire team was more attentive to the game. The parents of the other children were happy—their children learned new skills for working as a team. And Jessica was happy because she was able to play soccer with her friends.

When Jessica entered the third grade, she signed up for soccer again. Many teammates were the same kids Jessica had played with the year before, but the coach was different. The new coach refused to allow a blind child to play on his team.

The policy of the soccer organization is that everyone is permitted to play. There are no try-outs at this age level. But the new coach felt justified in saying, "Everybody plays, except you."

Jessica's mother contacted the National Federation of the Blind for help. It is an organization that works hard for all blind people to be treated just like everybody else. They asked the coach why Jessica couldn't play and were told, "Because she's blind."

"But she played last year, and everyone had fun. Why can't she play this year?"

The coach said, "Because she might get hurt."

"But lots of children play soccer, and many do get hurt. Will you prevent a clumsy, sighted child from playing, just because he or she might get hurt?" The coach said, "No."

"So, why can't Jessica play?" "Because the team will blame her when they lose," said the coach.

"At this age the most important thing is learning how to work and play as a team. Surely, you aren't saying any one child should be held responsible for the team winning or losing. Will you exclude sighted children who don't play well?"

"Of course not," said the coach.

"Then why can't Jessica play?" The coach became angry, and said, "You're acting as if it is normal for a blind child to play sports."

It should be normal for a blind child to play sports, and for every child to be permitted to be a child, regardless of the physical challenges they experience. All children should be permitted to play, to get hurt, to fail, and to succeed, without an adult asking them not to try.

Childhood is for exploring and falling down and getting back up again. This is true whether the child is blind or sighted, deaf or not, and whether he or she gets around on legs or wheels.

Jessica is in the third grade now—and she is playing soccer. And maybe the coach has learned a little more about teamwork in the process. Jessica and her mother spoke about their experience at the recent [NFB of Oregon] state Convention. When she was asked how she plays soccer, she said, "I was left-forward, and left-forward has to be out in front scoring goals."

Jessica and her family know that in the future, there will be tryouts for positions on the team. They know at that time, she might not be able to play. They also know there will be other things she will never be able to do—like driving a car. But they also know most things she wants to do in her life will be possible with a little creative adaptation.

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