Turnstone built it … and now they’re coming.
Officials at the local nonprofit plan to announce today their estimate that an expansion to its athletic facility will generate about $1 million in tourism revenue this year.
Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities built a $15 million expansion at 3320 N. Clinton St., creating a state-of-the-art facility that caters to people with special needs. The 125,000 square-foot fieldhouse was completed last September.
The U.S. goalball team has been practicing there for months in preparation for this summer’s Paralympic Games that begin Sept. 7 in Rio de Janiero. The women’s team is coming to Fort Wayne to practice full time this summer.
Today’s news conference will include a send-off for representatives of the men’s goalball team, who are headed to Rio. They will play in a smaller, four-team tournament designed to break in the new facility before it hosts Paralympic competition this fall.
Turnstone offers the only official goalball training facility in the U.S. The facility is seeking status as an official Paralympic training site.
Goalball, which is governed by the International Blind Sports Federation, allows visually impaired athletes to play a sort of soccer/dodgeball hybrid. Two bells are placed inside the ball, which is slightly larger than a basketball.
Teams of three try to score goals against each other by throwing or rolling the ball past their opponents and into a 30-by-4-foot net while remaining on their own half of the court.
Players, who wear blindfolds, rely on their hearing to track the ball’s location and aren’t allowed to make noises intended to distract the other team. Small bumps on the floor let players know they’re in-bounds.
Games require at least 10 officials, including two referees and four goal judges. A team must outscore its opponent by 10 goals to win.
Play can get a little rough, even though it’s a mostly noncontact sport, said Mike Mushett, Turnstone’s CEO. At the elite level, a 3-pound goalball can travel 40 to 50 mph after being hurled toward the goal, he said.
"It’s not all that unusual that a player will stop the ball with his face," he said.
The official guidelines include a "blood rule" that requires bleeding players to leave the court until blood has stopped flowing.
Matt Simpson, who is vying for a spot on the U.S. goalball squad, isn’t worried about getting hurt.
The 26-year-old Georgia native is just excited to be part of a team. He’s tried swimming and track but craved the opportunity to be part of a team, just like his older sister, who played soccer.
Simpson discovered goalball when he was 10 years old and attended a sports camp for blind athletes.
"It’s a real sport. It’s not like, ‘Oh, look what those blind people can do,’ " he said Wednesday.
Participating in sports at any level helps people develop confidence and self-esteem, Simpson said.
Anyone – disabled or not – can benefit from experiencing that group dynamic of working toward a common goal, he said. The goalball athletes practice, train, eat and live together.
Simpson quit his Colorado job to move to Fort Wayne last October so he could train full time. He described the local state-of-the-art facility as a dream come true.
"We are incredibly thankful to Turnstone for hosting us and making us part of the Turnstone family," he said.
Turnstone is also thankful.
CEO Mushett plans to thank city officials today for choosing to use some of Fort Wayne’s New Markets Revitalization Fund to support the project.
Doug Wood, PNC’s regional president, is impressed by Turnstone and its work with clients and their families.
The expansion project also impressed Wood because of its potential to attract more visitors to Fort Wayne and "create some economic vitality" in the community. Hotels, restaurants and other businesses are bound to increase sales, he said.
PNC led a coalition of banks that lent Turnstone enough money to build the expansion before about $6 million in pledges from individuals and organizations are paid. The donations are expected to be paid over three to five years.
STAR Financial and Old National banks also participated in the loan.
Wood toured the Turnstone facility and met some of the athletes Tuesday evening. After hearing stories about makeshift training sites they’ve been forced to use, Wood said it’s a tribute to them that the U.S. team is ranked No. 3 internationally despite those inconveniences.
With Turnstone’s new goalball court, he said, the team and the community are well-positioned to thrive.