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Athletes with vision problems flock to WMU

April 28, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Student athletes who are blind or visually impaired will gather on the Western University campus May 4-10 for sports camps that have become a national model for helping such athletes hone their skills.

Volunteers, meanwhile, are needed to help stage the 21st Annual Sports Education Camp for Students with Visual Impairments, sponsored by the WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies and the Michigan Blind Athletic Association.

Two camps are offered, a Junior Camp May 4-6 for athletes ages 10-12, and a Senior Camp May 7-10 for athletes ages 13-16. Athletes mostly are from Michigan, but some typically come from across the Midwest and as far away as Georgia, Maine or Alaska.

Volunteers are also a big part of the camps, and organizers urge local high school students and adults to sign up. Volunteers also come from a wide area and in the past have come from as far west as Colorado and as far east as Maine. Many are former camper athletes.

Volunteers are needed to donate anywhere from a morning, afternoon or evening up to 50 hours as sports teachers, group leaders, drivers, guide runners or as general helping hands. Critical needs include gymnasts, guide runners, swimmers, wrestlers and people to help manage students staying in the dorms and as they move throughout the campus.

Over the course of two decades, the sports camps, created by Dr. Paul Ponchillia, WMU professor emeritus of blindness and low vision studies, have become a national model for other communities. The junior camps offer a series of clinics designed to teach younger students fundamental athletic skills, while the senior camp's clinics teach older students intermediate athletic skills. Everything culminates in the Michigan State Games for Students with Visual Impairments, which offer an opportunity for students to compete as an individual or on a team.

The camps are designed to introduce students with visual impairments to sports and recreational activities and to provide training to those demonstrating athletic potential. Junior Camp activities will include introductory running, throwing, jumping, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling, bowling, judo and goalball. Senior Camp activities will include track and field, swimming, wrestling, goalball, cycling, power lifting and judo.

Athletes who attend the camps have the unique opportunity to interact with others who have the same difficulties in physical education as they do.

Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Dr. Paul Ponchillia, WMU professor emeritus of blindness and low vision studies, at (269) 278-7307 or paul.ponchillia@wmich.edu.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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