SANDY — Trisha Chase wanted so badly to play the sports her brothers do that she was willing to try and throw the javelin without being able to see where the pavement stopped and the dirt began.

The result was a sprained ankle.

"She does the shot and discus as best she can," said her mom, Christine Chase, of her 15-year-old daughter, who was born legally blind. Trisha might be a very frustrated ninth-grader if not for a sport that most sighted people have trouble even envisioning — goalball.

"I tried to play Junior Jazz, but I was terrible because I couldn't see the hoop," she said after her team finished third in the ninth annual Utah Goalball Tournament at Crescent View Middle School Friday afternoon. "I was looking around for something to do, and I found goalball. I've been playing since I was 6. . . . I love it."

Goalball is a sport that was created after World War II in an effort to give blinded veterans a physical activity. Three people make up a team, and they wear an eye covering that makes it impossible to see anything, so everyone is essentially equally blind. Each team lines up in front of its goal, and the teams take turns rolling the ball toward the opposition's goal. The weighted ball makes a bell-like noise as it travels the length of the court, where the players stretch out their bodies in an attempt to block the ball.

They then have 10 seconds to roll the ball at the other goal.

"It's a very intense sport for the older kids," said official Jalayne Jermain, who works with visually impaired students in the Alpine School District. "It has really taken off here in Utah."

It has grown from obscurity to a sport that offers competition at the state, national and international levels. Utah teams have been successful in national competitions, with two boys national titles and a second-place finish last year for the girls.

Jepson is convinced that Chase will lead the girls to a national title this fall.

"When I started, we had 16 kids," said Tony Jepson, a member of the board of directors of Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired. "In this tournament we have more than 70 participants. It's so fun for them, and it's so important."

Louis Burdett, Sabrina Zarogoza and Edgar Gonzalez took first place at Friday's competition, winning 12-2.

Jepson said the best part about the sport's gaining popularity is the effect that has on the youngsters.

"Blind kids don't have a lot of opportunities to get out and exercise and socialize," he said. "They sit at home and talk to their blind friends."

Christine Chase agrees. Goalball has given her daughter athletic opportunities she never imagined.

"The (U.S. National Goalball Team) coach came up to me at nationals and said, 'You're good. You're coming to train with us,' " said Trisha of the offer that was extended to her last fall. She has traveled to Colorado Springs several times to practice with the U.S. women's team, but isn't able to try out for a spot on the Paralympic team yet because she's too young.

"I turned 16 two months after the Paralympics," Trisha said. "That was kind of sad, but I was happy it was happening, that they thought I was good. But it was also a little overwhelming and a lot to take in.

Trisha is a straight A student at Hillcrest Junior High and works full time at the Sports Mall in Murray. She is attempting to raise money so she can travel to training camps and to competitions with the U.S. women's team, which covers some of her costs.

Jepson said money is an issue for some of the athletes as it costs about $750 for each child to participate. The Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired pays some of the costs, but the youngsters have to raise about $500 each.

Jepson doesn't care if it's ever a huge spectator sport; he'd just like to see anyone who wants to participate have the chance.

"I'd love it if we just had enough funding to run our program," he said. "I'd like it if the kids only had to raise about $100. . . . It's such a great sport for them. There are really a lot of skills these blind kids have to work on, not just in goalball but in life."

One 12-year-old participant's mother agrees.

"It's been a great thing," said Melanie Manwaring, whose 12-year-old son, Kurt, competed in the older division for the first time Friday. "It gives them a sense of individual accomplishment, and the whole social thing. Some of the best stuff that happens doesn't even happen on the court."


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com