Future Reflections          Special Issue: Sports, Fitness, and Blindness

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Blind Kids in Sports--Focus on Golf

by Christina Zani

Lex Wallerstein gets a quick putting lesson from Barbara Peluso.It was a perfect autumn Saturday on the links. At least twenty young golfers of varying levels of vision and their parent/caddies along with volunteer coaches made their way around the nine-hole golf course at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. They had gathered there for a biannual event hosted by the school, the Junior Blind Golf Program Tournament sponsored by the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association (MABGA).

Norman Kritz, Director of Golf for the MABGA, designed the course, which includes sand traps and a putting area, all surrounded by the lovely track of Overbrook School. Norman explained some basics about the day�s events. �The back four holes are for playing Best Ball,� he said. This is a game where two-person teams play against each other, and in order to tally score they keep playing off of the best putt for their team. He also pointed out that a professional coach sponsored by the MABGA comes to the Overbrook School every few weeks to work with students and that all golf clubs and equipment are provided at no cost to the child or family.

Out on the course, everyone worked hard at playing! Surrounded by his mother and siblings, Ricky Ricketts practiced in the putting area. His mother held him from behind to guide his arms, and a sister rattled the flag in the cup for Ricky to hear. He smiled widely each time he connected with the ball and sent it smoothly across the green toward the cup.

Two boys had partnered up for the morning, sixteen-year-old James Ryan and young teen Nick Martucci. They were golfing with their fathers as caddies. Nick is partially sighted and James is legally blind. They both have long solid drives, and I found myself ducking their line of fire when one of them would yell, �Fore!� James said, �I haven�t played this well all summer!� Both Nick and James are sports fans and they enjoy riding their tandems (bikes built for two) with family members. James takes trips to the driving range and Nick has weekly golfing lessons through the New Jersey Library for the Blind.

Even at age 6, Patrick Molloy recognizes the importance of a strong golf swing.Although many boys were having their day on the course, the girls were out, too! One young lady named Victoria was playing quietly with a coach nearly her age, Linda Fox�s twelve-year-old son. She was concentrating hard and going for long putts. Pretty in pink, she showed a strong sense of calm and determination as she made her way to the cup.

Another young athlete was Patrick Molloy, who hit the course with his father, Michael. His stance was one of raised shoulders and what seemed to be perfectly placed feet. When I remarked on his interesting looking putter, he exclaimed, �It�s my Odyssey two ball putter!� After indulging me my interruption, Patrick resumed playing and displayed amazing precision in putting, nearly finding the cup with each swing!

The day�s organizers could not have been more pleased with their wonderful event. Jim Gantner and Gil Kayson, president of the MABGA and chairman of the Junior Golf Program, spoke highly of the children and their organization�s accomplishments. Gantner made it clear that it was Gil�s determination that had gotten the Junior Golf Program off the ground, and Norman�s steadfastness that got the course built. He let me know that there were some people who didn�t think it could be done. Now, eleven years later, the program is thriving. The MABGA is looking to expand the Junior Program, and they sponsor adult outings about once a week between the months of April and November. Gantner and Kayson were also very encouraging about adults and children with varying levels of ability being able to golf.

As the sun got hotter and feet got tired, many eager children lined up for a driving contest and--to borrow a baseball term--some of them knocked it out of the park! A putting event closed out the sporting part of the day, with Norman Kritz rattling the flag for the putter�s ears, calling each golfer by name to take his or her chances at putting. Gentle laughter and clapping followed each putt. Sweet coaches Kathy Harrall and Paris Sterrett beamed at the children. Everyone then headed inside for pizza and well deserved awards for each child.

For more information:
Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association (MABGA): <www.mabga.org>
Overbrook School for the Blind: <www.obs.org>
Lifestyles of the Fun and Special: <www.lifestylesofthefunandspecial.com>

Reprinted in Future Reflections, Volume 25, Number 2, this article originally appeared in Lifestyles of the Fun and Special, a newsletter and Web site dedicated to recreation, relaxation, and entertainment for children with disabilities.

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