By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
From the rhythmic pounding of the basketball against a hardwood floor to the squeaking sound of sneakers pivoting against the court, the sounds of a basketball game often escape the attention of the average person.
But for children who are visually impaired, those sounds carry much more importance.
The FIU men’s basketball team hosted 21 children from Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, a local rehabilitation organization serving the blind, to engage them in the basketball experience prior to their team practice at FIU Arena Jan. 5.
Brad Matthews, the director of ticket sales for FIU Athletics, helped coordinate the field trip. His 5-year-old son, Jeremy, was born visually impaired and became completely blind in both eyes about a year ago and has been involved with the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind from an early age.
“There’s a reason why we are near the top in the country in community service and involvement. As soon as I reached out to the team, they were in,” Matthews said. “It’s great to see these kids do something hands on, and they don’t miss a beat.”
The student-athletes interacted with Jeremy and his classmates, ranging from ages 5 to 12, in a series of shooting, passing and dribbling activities to help them engage in the feels and sounds of the game of basketball. Many of the basketballs they used had sensors or bells inside that helped the children track them.
Some of the taller players on the team even helped the students experience the thrill of dunking a basketball.
“Events like this help teach them that there are so many things they can do,” said Krizia Perez, manager of the children’s programs at Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. “We want to make sure they know that they can play basketball like any other child.”
The trip was also an opportunity to teach the students more about FIU and what college is all about.
“Some of them were saying that they could be here one day and they were excited to learn more about FIU,” Perez said. “It’s great to hear them talk about their dreams and their futures.”
And the student-athletes had just as much fun as kids did.
“It’s a joy to my heart being able to give back and meet with these kids,” said Eric Lockett, a sophomore guard. “They are overcoming the challenges they face everyday, so I look up to them.”