“As a young coach, I couldn’t ask for more. These goals would be our first goals in about 15 years.”
Mr De Luna says Puerto Rico’s national team is a young group, with most players in their 20s, but he and his assistant Derick Torres believe they have what it takes to make the top five in America
The team played in the Locomotion Tournament in California in 2019, finishing fifth out of 10 clubs. The standard of competition was high, with national players from Mexico and the USA in attendance. De Luna says their strong showing has given them confidence that they can build towards a first ever appearance at the International Blind Sport Association (IBSA) Goalball Americas Championships in 2021.
It’s been a long road to building up the sport and attracting new players in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Blind Sports Federation had planned a big goalball push in 2017, only to have Hurricane Maria strike the island, tragically killing more than 4,000 people.
“It was a hard year for us but we didn’t give up. We realized we needed an international event to let others know we still had a strong team so we flew to Colombia for a friendly tournament and won against every club and the national selection team too. After that, people started joining the goalball family.”
Another challenge they have faced is finding a regular and well-equipped place to train. De Luna says they have had to move venues often, and none of the facilities have not had goalball goals they can use during their training sessions.
Part of the problem has been that traditional goalball goals are nine metres wide and made of metal, making them difficult for facilities to store and challenging for clubs or teams to transport.
De Luna says the new inflatable Goalball Packagoals will allow the team to take the goals with them to the facilities of the Boys and Girls Club Ernesto Ramos Antonini and the Department of Sports and Recreation, where they train and play.
“I know my players will be more motivated to go to practice. With [these new goals] I feel there is no excuse not to be among the best in America. I look forward to bringing other countries to our island and levelling up our skills.”
Puerto Rico’s national team is made up of Dominic Lugo, Nestor Alonzo, Derek Hernández and captain Felipe Flores. They are currently ranked 88th in the world in the IBSA Goalball World Rankings.
What is goalball?
Goalball was developed with blind and visually impaired athletes in mind. It is a Paralympic sport in which teams of three players roll a ball with bells inside it across an indoor court and into a nine-metre-wide goal at the other end. Players on the other team try to block the ball from entering their net by diving. Anyone can play, both blind and sighted wearing eye shades, relying on sound to identify where the ball is.
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