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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Muhammad Waheed's Goalball Journey



By Jessica Minneci

Three players crouch in front of goals at the ready.
Photo credit Dotty Raynor, The Maryland School for the Blind 
          Imagine being blindfolded and lying on a gymnasium floor as you attempt to block a ball full of bells hurtling toward you.  This game, known as goalball, is enjoyed throughout the blind and visually impaired community especially in grade school.  Fortunately, athletes don't have to stop playing goalball when they reach the collegiate level. Starting a team at a university can be a fantastic way to continue playing and meet great people.  For these reasons, Muhammad Waheed worked with others to create a goalball team at Towson University.

When he was a sophomore in high school, Muhammad began playing goalball as part of an outreach program through The Maryland School for the Blind.  His two coaches were adapted physical education and health teachers Matt Mescall and Bev Marhevka.  Coach Mescall and coach Marhveka taught Muhammad and his friend, Tim Utzig, a great deal about goalball, including the fact that every player must be open to playing all three positions: left wing, right wing, and center.

"I'll admit I started off playing the right wing position," Muhammad said.  "However, that has changed.  I'm capable of playing all three positions and I just do what coach asks and what the team asks.” In this way, Muhammad became a more flexible athlete and does what he can to support his team.
After high school, Tim and Muhammad enrolled at Towson University.  Following coach Mescall’s suggestion, Muhammad asked the staff of Disability Support Services about starting a team.  The staff connected Muhammad with Jeff Keenan, the assistant director of competitive sports in the Campus Recreation department.  Jeff guided Muhammad and Tim through the necessary steps to form a team with Matt Mescall from The Maryland School for the Blind as the head coach.

To generate interest in the sport, Towson hosted an intramural goalball event. Having doubts about the success of this event, Muhammad recalled, "I basically thought it wasn't going to work because goalball is a visually impaired sport...  and Towson is a sighted person school." Fortunately, those who attended the event seemed interested in the sport, causing the team to move forward with their plans to start a goalball club.
By the end of the fall 2016 semester, Towson had an official goalball club. Muhammad was elected club president with Tim Utzig as vice president. A secretary, Olivia Chapman, and a treasurer, Caitlin Morrell, were also elected. Afterwards, the four went to meetings to learn how to manage their club budget, submit budget and facility requests, plan events, and find two safety and facility officers.

The fun begins with goalball practice at Towson once a week.  There are times when practice has to be canceled, however, because there are not enough players.  In order to meet the requirement for a sports club at Towson, 10 people have to sign a waver.  The problem that the team runs in to is that people sign the waver but don't show up to practice.  In the beginning, 3 to 6 out of the 10 people that signed the waver regularly went to practice.  Now, the team roster consists of 10 to 12 players with 6 to 8 people showing up to practice.  Muhammad hopes that, "We can get, one day, everybody who signed a waver to consistently come to practice." A co-educational team, there is about the same number of male and female players. There are also two visually impaired players.

Three players slide across the floor to protect
 their goals from the oncoming ball.
Photo credit Dotty Raynor, The Maryland School for the Blind
When the team does practice, the players work vigorously under coach Mescall’s instruction. As Mescall also coaches down at The Maryland School for the Blind, the Towson team occasionally practices with their high school team. These practices give the younger students "more college exposure" as the Towson team can advise the other students based on their own college experiences. Muhammad also encourages the students, telling them that "they can go to any university or anywhere and they can continue playing goalball after graduating from school for the blind."
The players also host or attend different goalball meets, one on one matches at other universities. In the spring, Towson Goalball participates in the National Collegiate Goalball Championship, which is a tournament between multiple university goalball teams. In 2017, Towson's players went to Slippery Rock University to compete in the championship.  Out of about 10 or 11 teams, Towson earned fifth place with Slippery Rock winning first place. "For our first semester club, we thought that was pretty good," Muhammad said.

In 2018, Towson hosted the championship.  Unfortunately, only four teams were able to attend. Through coach Mescall’s connections, coach Matt Boyle, the head coach of the Men's Paralympic Goalball Team for Team USA, helped organize and officiate the championship. He also brought goalball goals to the campus. "When there's some downtime, occasionally, he'll even give us some pointers," Muhammad said.  Coach advises the team on how to roll the ball and how to slide and dive. He speaks on topics such as form, technique, offense, and defense.
            
          Others can connect with Towson Goalball on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @tugoalball.  "I'm also in the process of trying to help start other programs at other universities...  I am working with people at Syracuse University to see if they're interested and Norfolk State University in Virginia has shown some interest in starting a program," Muhammad explained. Muhammad opens lines of communication with these schools via phone calls and emails from the team's email address, tugoalball@gmail.com. On top of that, Muhammad provides advice for existing teams that are struggling.
One player about to hurtle the ball
back toward their opponents.
Photo credit Dotty Raynor, The Maryland School for the Blind
            
         During his next two years at Towson, Muhammad hopes that the team can grow and that they "can have a men's goalball team and a women's goalball team." To help achieve this goal, Towson is celebrating National Blind Sports Day with an intramural goalball tournament on Friday October 5th where anyone can come play goalball. 

Muhammad Waheed is a junior at Towson University. He is majoring in mass communication and is on the track of journalism and new media.  A determined individual, he does not let his visual impairment stop him from achieving success. Before graduation in 2020, Muhammad and Tim want to find other students to continue to manage the Towson goalball team. Upon graduation, Muhammad said, "I want to go into the field of journalism and...  find a job within the industry.  I'd also like to stay involved with goalball, whether that's coaching, playing, or helping develop new programs."


Jess Minneci is a senior at Seton Hill University and an intern at APH. She is a three-time National Braille Challenge participant and has previously volunteered with ACB. She is a poet and aspiring novelist who enjoys filming youtube videos about young adult novels and spending time with her guide dog Joyce.


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