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Students and Faculty Discover Goalball at the London Paralympics

October 1, 2012

In September, Stephen Gambescia, PhD, traveled with Scott Gabriel Knowles, PhD, Director of the Great Works Symposium, and nine students who completed a course called “Perspectives on Disabilities” to the 2012 Paralympics in London. The Paralympics is an international multi-sport event whose participants have either intellectual or physical disabilities. The students and Gambescia and Knowles cultivated a particular interest for one of the athletic events: goalball.

Goalball was originally developed for World War II veterans, and is “one of the few Paralympic sports designed for disabled players from the ground up, rather than sports readapted for disabled athletes,” explained Gambescia. Similar to soccer, the objective of goalball is to defend your own goal and prevent the other team from scoring. Each team of three players will move along lines of raised tape to identify their location by touch. The ball has multiple bells attached to it so that players can hear when it’s close to them. Players use various tactics to distract the opposing team, such as chattering loudly so opponents can’t hear the ball coming. Spectators are asked to remain completely silent during a match of goalball so that the players can hear and concentrate.

Gambescia and Knowles, along with Pennoni Honors College Star Scholar Ariel Pollack, co-authored an online article about goalball and the London Paralympics for Drexel’s publication, The Smart Set. After witnessing such a unique event, Gambescia wonders why the Paralympics aren’t broadcasted in America, as well as why so few Americans know that the Paralympics exist. “Awakening to an elite disability sport might lead us to expanded awareness and perhaps even rights and opportunities, not just for disabled athletes, but a fuller consideration for the rights and the capabilities of the disabled in society more broadly,” the co-authors suggested in their article.

During their week in London, the students had opportunities to interview athletes, coaches, trainers, and Games organizers. They also continued studies that began prior to the trip on the subjects of social cultural aspects of the Paralympics, media exposure, venue design, and assisted devices for the athletes.

This trip was made possible by the Pennoni Honors College’s Great Works Symposium, which curates courses that explore collaboration and large-scale societal impact. “Perspectives on Disabilities” was team-taught by Knowles, Kristine Mulhorn, PhD, and Jane Greene Ryan, PhD.