Irving — Blind youngsters had the chance to compete in baseball, archery, a number of sports, and track and field events during the 21st Annual Sports Extravaganza for Blind and Visually Impaired Athletes hosted at Nimitz High School on Saturday, Oct. 26.
The field day, co-hosted by the Lions Club District 2X-1 and Region 10 Education Service Center, invited students from across Texas to Irving to compete in numerous events.
Julia Johnson, co-chair of the Sports Extravaganza, explained how some of the events are altered to allow blind and visually impaired children to participate.
“Today, they’re going to have beep baseball, in which they throw the ball, which has bells in it, and they run to a little base which is beeping,” Johnson said. “They have archery, believe it or not, where the targets are beeping. They have a shot put, a softball throw, and they’re going to get awards for each thing they complete in.
“They’re also going to run track, and when they first start out, they run along a rope. As they grow, they hold a tether with an athlete. Usually Nimitz High School brings their football players out, and they run with the kids.”
Johnson has been a part of the Sports Extravaganza for the past 20 years.
“The Duncanville Lions Club came to me, they hosted this once and realized it was going to be too big for them,” Johnson said. “I was coming in as vice district governor, and they asked me if I would propose it to the district. We jumped on it, because it seemed like such a wonderful thing to do. We put it together as one of our charities, and since then, it has grown from 39 athletes to over 200.”
The Sports Extravaganza gives many of these young athletes a place to compete for the very first time, something not even the Special Olympics can do.
“Special Olympics is wonderful, but it does not work with blind children,” Johnson said. “It is for handicapped and children with other disabilities. Sports Extravaganza is just for blind and visually impaired children, but they also could be handicapped. They can be in the wheelchair, they can be using walkers, whatever. We encompass everything here.”
Vinod Mathur, the current governor of Lions Club District 2X-1, said helping with the Sports Extravaganza is a big part of what convinced him to join the Lions Club.
“I’ve been involved with this 2007,” Mathur said. “When I came in and saw these kids come here, especially those that are blind and those that are disabled. When they get the medals, seeing the joy in their eyes is a wonderful thing. That’s really something the Lions are doing to bring a little bit of sunshine into their lives, because they also deserve to come out and enjoy sports.
“Sports is something that has several life lessons. They learn to compete, it gives them confidence, and it gives them disappointment, because they may not win everything. There’s a win and lose, so then you learn to accept challenges basically whether you fail or pass. Ultimately, they all have fun, so that is the main goal of us here to bring them all here.”
Many of the day’s athletes walked away proudly showing off their bronze, silver and gold medals. But everyone who competed walked away with much more: life lessons, new friends, and a tremendous sense of pride in what they accomplished.
“[The kids] practice all year to come, because in their little hometowns where they come from, they may not have a lot of events for them to participate in,” Johnson said. “They can’t just get out and run track with the other kids, and they can’t throw balls, and they can’t do archery with other kids. But here, they get to excel. They get to do exactly what they want to do. [The Lions] were charged with being the ‘Knights of the Blind’ by Helen Keller, and this is one way we can actually work with the blind.”