Goalball, a sport designed for Blind athletes, has become Towson University’s latest club sport
Freshmen Tim Utzig and Muhammad Waheed didn’t think they could start a club team at Towson University. Especially for a sport that was originally invented for the Blind.
But with the help of several departments on campus, Utzig and Waheed were able to start the Towson University Goalball club team.
Goalball participants compete in teams of three blindfolded players who try to throw a ball embedded with bells into the opponents’ goal.
Both picked up the game while attending the Maryland School for the Blind. So when Waheed (diagnosed with Peters Anomaly) and Utzig (diagnosed with Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy) wanted to bring the game to TU, they were surprised at the response they received from both Campus Recreation and Disability Support Services.
“When Muhammad brought the sport up, I found it really interesting and wanted to jump on it right away,” said Jeannie Mauldin, a disabilities specialist in Disability Support Services. “So we started reaching out to Campus Rec and Student Activities, but it was Muhammad and Tim who did all the leg work. They did all the research and started the communications.
“Starting goalball at Towson University was their baby since day one.”
While the two freshmen were working to get things started, Disability Support Services wanted to find a way to help. So the staff bought the team's equipment so the two could introduce the sport to the campus community, much to the surprise of Waheed.
“I was personally stunned that the university provided us with the equipment and got behind us,” Waheed said. “After we left the Maryland School of the Blind, we thought we would never play the sport again. So we were thrilled and excited that we get to continue.”
“They have done everything. All we have did was get them the equipment,” Mauldin added. “Muhammad and Tim have shown so much leadership and maturity. They had a goal they knew they were going to achieve it and that’s what they did.”
The duo got the ball rolling by partnering with Campus Rec to host a showcase event at Burdick Hall in November 2016. The duo had a good response, so they continued to work with Campus Rec to start a university-sanctioned club team.
The team first needed a coach, so Waheed and Utzig went back to their Maryland School for the Blind roots and asked their old coach Matthew Mescall if he would come aboard. Mescall, who also works with the United States Association of Blind Athletes, was thrilled to join his former students.
“I had the great opportunity to coach Muhammad and Tim while they were in high school,” Mescall said. “I said ‘yes of course’ to continue to work with these two and using goalball and sports as a way of connecting people and communities and eliminating barriers such as having a disability.”
For the Waheed and Utzig, it was a thrill to have their former coach help them in building this new venture on campus.
“When I went to Maryland School for the Blind in eighth grade, Coach Mescall recruited me into the sport,” Utzig said. “He is a role model and a great support system from building this team from the ground up.”
Next came assembling the team, which features eight members—three of which have vision impairments. And while the game was originally designed for the Blind, anyone can play, as all participants must wear a blindfold.
“At Maryland School for the Blind, goalball is like their college football team because everyone comes out to see it,” Utzig said. “But for people at Towson University, it’s a whole new thing for them. They get to see it’s an actual sport that you can be competitive in, and it’s really cool to see their reactions and them getting so into it.”
After a few practices, the team competed in their first game on February 17 against Slippery Rock University at the Maryland School for the Blind’s gymnasium. The Tigers won the game 20-15 and played two more games against Slippery Rock that weekend.
The team is currently fundraising so that they can travel and compete at the third-annual National Collegiate Goalball Tournament at Slippery Rock University.
“If we make it there it will be a huge accomplishment for our organization, especially within our first semester as an official TU sports club,” Waheed said.
For Waheed, who serves as president of TU Goalball, the sport was always filled with big accomplishments for him. After years of being told he wasn’t an athlete, the Maryland School for the Blind and goalball helped him find a competitive outlet.
So it’s easy to see why he views the sport as a way to build a bond between students with vision impairments and the rest of the college community.
“I have two goals for this organization,” Waheed said. “One is bridging the gap between the sighted and those with vision impairments. The second is encouraging more vision-impaired students to go to college and get involved.”
That’s music to Mescall’s ears, because he feels both Waheed and Utzig have been great advocates for the sport of goalball. So he’s thrilled the two are bringing the sport to the TU.
“To play side-by-side with visually impaired and sighted athletes not only benefits Muhammad and Tim, but hopefully demonstrates how sports can bring people together,” Mescall said.
This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University: Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Campus and supporting ableness at TU.