Park district partnership seeks to bring more sports programing to visually impaired athletes

At a soccer clinic on Friday in Hyde Park, visually impaired athletes used blindfolds to keep players on equal footing as they learned to use adaptive equipment.

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Louise Morrison, 11, kicks a ball during a soccer clinic Friday for visually impaired youth at Midway Plaisance Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Louise Morrison, 11, kicks a ball during a soccer clinic Friday for visually impaired youth at Midway Plaisance Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A group of kids kicking around soccer balls on a sunny day wouldn’t be a particularly unusual sight in Chicago — except that on Friday morning, the group at Midway Plaisance Park all wore blindfolds.

The group was part of a free soccer clinic put on through a partnership between the Chicago Park District and the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes that is helping introduce visually impaired players to blind soccer and other sports.

The blindfold “basically puts you on the same playing field, and it makes you have equal vision to the other players” 17-year-old participant Adrian Sanchez explained, noting that the players have varying levels of visual impairment.

During the clinic, players learned to use the specially adapted soccer balls, which have bells inside, to complete passes and score goals.

Louise Morrison (left), 11, and Adrian Sanchez, 17, hold adaptive soccer balls Friday during a clinic for visually impaired youth at Midway Plaisance Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Louise Morrison (left), 11, and Adrian Sanchez, 17, hold adaptive soccer balls Friday during a clinic for visually impaired youth at Midway Plaisance Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

While he has played soccer with his cousins, Sanchez said this was the first time he’d played soccer specifically adapted for the visually impaired.

And likely not the last.

“I definitely want to play more,” Sanchez said afterward.

Halfway through the clinic, the players huddled up to do a cheer:

“Building blind soccer!” they yelled.

If that kind of enthusiasm continues, Park District officials hope they can eventually form teams.

Sheena Hager, a Chicago Park District program event coordinator, tosses a ball during a soccer clinic for visually impaired youth Friday at Midway Plaisance Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Sheena Hager, a Chicago Park District program event coordinator, tosses a ball during a soccer clinic for visually impaired youth Friday at Midway Plaisance Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“Schools don’t necessarily have the resources that [the park district has]” said Daniel Hermle, assistant manager of special recreation for the park district. “A lot of these programs and events require specialized equipment.”

Hermle said the program allows participants to participate in recreational activities they might not be able to do at school.

“Our goal is always to be recreation-focused and get to the point where they are independent in their recreation,” he said.

A second clinic planned for Sunday is open to adults exclusively.

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

Coaches Diego Rivas (right) and Toyi Anaclet (left), both with the Chicago Fire Football Club, try to find a soccer ball while wearing eye pieces that block their vision during a soccer clinic for visually impaired youth on Friday at Midway Plaisance Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Coaches Diego Rivas (right) and Toyi Anaclet (left), both with the Chicago Fire Football Club, try to find a soccer ball while wearing eye pieces that block their vision during a soccer clinic for visually impaired youth on Friday at Midway Plaisance Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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