Sport has a way of bringing people together no matter what language or disability.
The Pickering Soccer Club recently introduced a program for the visually impaired — one of only a handful in the province. It’s attracted those who can and cannot see.
“When I came out for blind soccer, I was like, what does a soccer field even feel like?” said Alyssa Burton, 18, who was born unable to see.
The Whitby high school student hadn’t really played sports, until now. She’s part of the Pickering Soccer Club’s program.
“Every week, I look forward to being able to come out here and not being labeled as someone who’s blind, and just having fun,” said Burton.
“Here we can just play a sport that’s designed for us, built for us,” player Ingrid Schurr said.
Schurr travels from Toronto every week to play. The 42-year-old was struck by a car three years ago. She already had an impairment, but lost more of her vision and was left searching for sports to play.
“If the ball ever stops? No one knows where it is, so the ref sticks their foot up and you have no idea that there are eight other players coming for it,” said Schurr.
The ball rattles and the field is a bit bigger than a basketball court with boards along the length of it.
“That helps keep the ball in play and the players also use that for echo location so they can hear better where the ball is on the field,” said Matt Greenwood, Pickering Soccer Club executive director and head coach.
Greenwood started the program in Pickering last year. It allows everyone to play, no matter their visual impairment.
“In this day and age, when a lot of people have their faces buried in a device, you really have to concentrate on what you’re saying to your other teammates and what you’re hearing from them because without that key sense of sight it puts a big onus on your other senses,” said Greenwood.
It’s something Trey Thompson has been learning first-hand. The 22-year-old doesn’t have a visual impairment but loves the beautiful game.
“You see a different part of the game this way,” said Thompson.
He wears eyeshades to make it a level playing field.
“To appreciate more of the game and how they play it because they’re fantastic at it, like you see some of these guys doing tricks, flicks and they can’t even see,” said Thompson.
The Pickering Soccer Club wants more gameplay, but in order to get it, they need to grow the sport. That means attracting more players and expanding to other parts of the province, Greenwood said.