Visually impaired and blind children often miss out on playing sports, but it does not have to be that way.
Camp Abilities Four Corners wants to open up the world of sports to visually impaired and blind students at a new camp June 12-17 in northern Arizona.
Qualified students ages 9-17 will be coached in basketball, soccer, golf, swimming, hiking and horseback riding, said camp organizer Vicki Numkena of Dolores, a teacher for the visually impaired at schools on the Navajo Reservation.
The summer camp will be based at the Historic Cameron Trading Post in Cameron, Arizona, with activities at the Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff and Tuba City. Tuition is $200, and scholarships are available.
Lack of opportunity for the visually impaired to play organized sports inspired Numkena to start the camp.
“I feel bad for the kids around here. To go to a (visually impaired/blind) camp they have to travel to Denver or Tucson or Salt Lake City, and it’s expensive,” she said. “I decided we need a camp at an awesome spot in the Four Corners that is affordable with kids from this area in mind.”
It is a misconception that the blind and visually impaired can’t, or should not, play sports, Numkena said, and it leads to inequity.
“You see it in PE class, in the neighborhood and on the playground, they carry the bags or keep score but don’t participate,” she said. “Our goal is to show that with a few modifications, they can play and get the benefits of exercise and benefits of playing a sport.”
For example, a beeper on the basket indicates the goal. Bells on a soccer ball allow the visually impaired to track it.
During team sports, often everyone wears a blindfold in order to even the playing field. Coaching staff assist players and closely monitor the game for safety.
At Camp Abilities Four Corners, up to 15 students will learn about and play various sports with guidance from instructors and coaches trained to teach the visually impaired and blind.
In Flagstaff, the students will receive instruction in an Olympic-size swimming pool at Northern Arizona University. Then they learn to play golf on a local course and take a hike at the base of Humphrey’s Peak.
“Golf is becoming very popular on the Navajo Reservation. The kids are excited to learn,” Numkena said.
At the Grand Canyon, students will hike the rim trail, then visit a practice field to work on their golf swing. At Tuba City, students will play basketball and soccer games, and go horseback riding.
The camp includes transportation and room and board. The Historic Trading Post at Cameron has donated rooms for the new camp program.
Besides teaching athletic skills, the goal is also to give students the confidence to play sports and speak up to advocate for adaptive practices on school and neighborhood courts and fields.
“This is our first year. Long term, we want to invite role models like (blind climber and kayaker) Eric Weihenmayer to meet with the kids, we want expand into training programs for PE teachers on adaptive practices so they can take those skills back to their schools,” Numkena said.
A Poker Run fundraiser for Camp Abilities Four Corners will be held June 4 at Blondie’s Trophy Room, 45 E. Main St.
Camp Abilities Four Corners is supported by Visually Impaired and Blind Athletes of Northern Arizona, a nonprofit organization that provides children who are visually impaired, blind, or deaf blind with the opportunity to participate in sports and physical activities and to empower them to advocate for the modifications that help them succeed, according to its website.