A woman with a goal

Christella Garcia

Photo By Larry Dalton

Although goalball was introduced to the world at the 1976 Paralympics and has had its own world championships since 1978, the absence of a goalball team in Sacramento was never really addressed—at least, not until Christella Garcia moved here. The New Mexico transplant was surprised to discover that Sacramento didn’t have a team, but rather than give up the sport, Garcia began arranging clinics and building community interest. Now, Garcia is the coach for Sacramento’s only goalball team, the Sacramento River Bats. For information about the team, call (916) 452-8271, ext. 340.

How did you get involved with the Society for the Blind?

I started out volunteering there and just kind of threw around the idea of wanting do goalball, because I had played a lot when I was in high school. There wasn’t a team out here, which I was kind of surprised about. I worked a lot with Bryan Bashin. He was the director [of the Society for the Blind] at the time, and he introduced me to the people at Access Leisure, which was Annie Desalernos and Steven Hornsey. So, they’ve been working with me. And also, we’ve been working with California State University, Sacramento, with Scott Modell, and he’s provided us with a gym where we can practice. So, we just started. We worked on a few clinics and, you know, got everyone interested. Now, I’m really working closely with Access Leisure.

What kind of support do you get from the folks at Access Leisure?

You know, they’re just so awesome at helping me, and pretty much whatever I need, they find a way to do it.

Can you explain the game?

Basically, it’s played in an area the size of a basketball court. There are six players on the court at a time; three people on each team. And there are lines on the floor. Basically, you have to get the ball past a certain line on the court, and that scores your team a goal. The other team has to provide a human barricade and not let the ball go past. Offense is the big key to the game. People are good at throwing the ball, but you really have to be good offensively, too. I describe it as a mix between soccer and rugby, because it is pretty aggressive. I mean, it’s not just a little T-sport. I mean, you’re very vigorously active.

How did you arrive at the team name?

Well, I went to a Sacramento River Cats baseball game, and I was just so psyched. And then I was kind of thinking about bats and echolocation. See, when you’re playing goalball, everyone has to wear blindfolds. And so, everybody is kind of at the same level. So, you don’t use your sight; it’s a lot of echolocation. And then I thought, “River Bats.” Some people got the idea that I was being offensive toward blind people, which is totally not what I was trying to do. It was more about the echolocation-type thing. And I was like, “River Cats and the River Bats.”

Can sighted people play?

We totally welcome anyone to come down and check it out, or even volunteer. As for our practices, sighted people are totally welcome to come down and play. The only time when you have to be legally blind to play is during a sanctioned tournament.

Are sighted people at a disadvantage?

Well, what’s fun for them is that when they put on the blindfolds, they’re like, “Wow, this opens up a whole new perspective for us. We’re not used to, you know, using our other senses.” They always come away with a new experience of blindness. Usually, they’ll watch a couple of games and then get the idea, and then they can put on the shades. But it’s kind of a daunting thing, you know, to just be like, “OK, we’re going to put these on you, and you’re going to play.” I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, so I always let them watch a few games until they’re comfortable.

How often do you practice?

Well, we’re shooting for once a week, on Sundays. It will probably be like a 1-3 p.m. practice.

Would you like to see goalball being played in Sacramento high schools?

That would be awesome. Or, if the high-school kids could come out and play, that would be something that would be really fun. There are a lot of young kids that I talk with that say, "Yeah, I really want do that, but people don’t think that it’s safe for me." Which, a lot of the times, I totally disagree with. I mean, this is a sport where a visually impaired person can feel, you know, that this puts everyone on an equal level.