Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the U.S. men’s national goalball team can be found practicing at Turnstone, getting ready for its September trip to Rio De Janiero for the Paralympics.
While the trip to Rio is still a few months away, Thursday marks the start of the 2016 United States Association of Blind Athletes National Goalball Championships.
Seventeen teams from across the country will be in Fort Wayne for the tournament, said Kenna Davis, communications specialist at Turnstone, which is hosting the event. Teams will come from New Jersey, Michigan, California and Florida, among other states, Davis said.
Goalball is an international sport for athletes with visual impairments. The game is played with three players on each team. A ball weighing just under 3 pounds is thrown discus-style across the court. Davis described game play as similar to that of soccer and reverse dodgeball, in that players actively throw themselves in front of the ball to defend their goal.
Players are required to wear a blackout mask and the ball contains three bells that ring when the ball is thrown or rolled. The court itself has markings that allow the players to feel where they are on the court in relation to the goal.
"There’s probably about 150 to 200 players nationwide," Davis said. "It’s not a huge sport, but it is a Paralympic sport and the team training here is going to Rio in September to compete. The team is ranked third in the world."
Davis said Turnstone expects about 130 athletes and coaches for the tournament and about 300 to 500 people total, when factoring in relatives, friends and fans who may travel with the teams.
Overall, Fort Wayne will host about 150,000 visitors this summer as people from across the country arrive to compete and watch sports tournaments, including wresting and volleyball, as well as a host of youth and adaptive sports, said Dan O’Connell, CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.
In total, sports tournaments will generate about $30 million in tourism revenue throughout the summer, O’Connell said, making them an important contributor to the area economy.
"An emerging player in making that contribution is Turnstone," O’Connell said. "They’ve built a beautiful new $14 million field house, they have organized in the past things like power soccer and sled hockey."
The hope, O’Connell said, is to turn Fort Wayne into a destination for disability sports teams and competitions. As part of that effort, Turnstone is seeking designation as an official training site by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Part of that application, O’Connell said, is a site inspection that occurred during the June 17-19 Power Soccer National Championships.
Other steps have been taken to ensure the city is as accessible as possible to people with disabilities, including meetings with the local hotels for sensitivity programs, O’Connell said.
"It’s a point of community pride that we’re not just ADA accessible, but we’re well beyond that," O’Connell said. "Some communities are dog friendly, some communities are bicycle friendly – and Fort Wayne is. We hope to become known as disability friendly."