Blind veterans of World War II no longer need to be on the sidelines in the world of sports. Inactivity for the sightless is a thing of the past!
Uncle Sam has found athletics effective in rebuilding the courage and self-confidence among the men who gave their treasured sight for their country. The effort to give these men back their place in society to aid them in leading normal, happy lives was part of the war service of the Institute.
The discovery that they still can handle themselves in sports gave these veterans a new lease on life. The teaching of sports to the sightless long has been part of the instruction at the Institute. It has proved successful notably in combating any feeling of physical inadequacy and in building self-reliance. War-blinded Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard veterans were sent to the Institute from the Philadelphia Navy Hospital under a joint rehabilitation program with the U. S. Navy.
Under the guidance of the skilled Institute teachers, the sightless veterans learned, and our own students learn, in daily routine, to play baseball and basketball, to wrestle and to compete in such track events as jumping and foot-racing, and to take training in calisthenics and body-building techniques.
In baseball, the instructor pitches a special, softly-inflated ball so it bounces near the plate. From the sound, the batter judges the position of the ball and swings. He must run to first base alone, guided by the hand-claps of the first baseman. From there around to home, he is helped by an instructor. The pitcher is neutral and may shout directions to both sides.
In foot-races, the runners keep a straight course by a lead string on wires that divide the lane. In the running broad-jump, an instructor orally signals the jumper when to take off. A hand-clap guides the landing. In basketball, the teacher taps the hoop with a long rod, and the players shoot for the sound. In calisthenics and body-building activities such as bag punching, the athlete guides himself by the sound of the equipment used.
It all sounds fairly easy, but it takes much time and planning. Persons with normal sight can appreciate the handicaps these valiant boys overcome if they attempt a similar sports program with their eyes shut.
The sports which are feasible and adaptable for the blind run almost the whole gamut of athletic competition. They even include golf, fencing, archery and a host of other sports in which the keenness of sight is ordinarily so important.
Track events, and wrestling probably head the list of sports in which the blind can and do excel. The outstanding success of the Institute's track and wrestling teams offer convincing evidence of this, for in recent years, they have won most of their matches against well-trained sighted competition, conducted under AAU regulations, with no concessions made because of blindness. Our boys have won over the teams of many of the local high schools and have scored notable victories over the plebes of West Point and the freshman team of Columbia University.
Crew is the only sport in which blind boys can compete as a team, working as a unit; and our crew is the only blind crew in the United States. The emphasis on competitive sports at the Institute is rewarded not only in physical development but in building self-dependence and self-confidence. Competing on equal footing with their sighted friends whether it be on the athletic field, the debating platform or at any other form of competition serves as realistic and invaluable experiences which help develop well-springs of strength and courage to flee problems which lie ahead.