SPORTS AND RECREATION
Sandy White: One Promise–Many Results
by David Block, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
Some people devote their lives to a cause that doesn’t involve financial rewards. Seventy-six-year-old Sandy White of Bear, Delaware, is a shining example. Mr. White is the Sports Administrator of Blind Sports Organization, formerly Pennsylvania Association of Blind Athletes (PABA). Since 1976, White has dedicated his time and energy to working with blind and visually-impaired athletes.
Back in 1976, the fully sighted White had no reason to think about blind people and their capabilities. However, everything changed when a visually-impaired girl’s mother phoned him out of the blue. At the time, he was coaching and teaching swimming at a Virginia YMCA. She told him that two different YMCAs refused to give her daughter, Marie, swimming lessons because of her limited vision. White remembered, “I told her, ‘Our swimmers seem to have their eyes closed or their goggles fogged up.’” He agreed to work with Marie.
As White taught her, he observed that she improved in the water; at the same time her self-esteem also improved. She joined his YMCA swim team.
One day in the dentist’s office, White picked up SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and saw something about the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) in the back of the magazine. USABA was holding their national games; swimming was included. He told Marie about the USABA nationals and agreed to take her there.
At nationals, White learned that many of the USABA athletes had been denied the opportunity to take gym in their public schools. They had very few chances to be physically active–a privilege most able-bodied students could take for granted. USABA, White learned, attempted to fill that void.
A couple of national USABA championships later, the organization invited White to be part of the US Blind Swim Team’s coaching staff. “I was hooked,” said White who added that it was a volunteer job, which he truly found gratifying. He enjoyed seeing his athletes’ self-esteem grow.
Meeting Mae Davidow
At one of the USABA championships, White gave a swimming clinic. In attendance was septuagenarian Mae Davidow, a totally blind math teacher at Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. White taught Davidow to swim. As a result, she entered USABA’s swimming competition at the national championships and won a medal.
Davidow and White had similar concerns. Because many blind and visually impaired children were being mainstreamed, they no longer had opportunities to be physically active, particularly during gym classes. White and Davidow observed that mainstreamed blind and visually-impaired children were frequently in worse shape than children who remained in schools for the blind. Davidow started a Philadelphia blind sports club in order for them to be physically active.
In 1988, White moved to Pennsylvania for personal reasons. Davidow asked him to take part in the organization. He agreed, and one of the first things he did was change its name to Pennsylvania Association of Blind Athletes because he and Davidow wanted to reach out to visually challenged children and adults throughout the state.
White remembered, “At one of PABA’s sports clinics, there was maybe one out of twelve kids who had ever played any type of a ballgame with family or friends; there was maybe one or two who had ever done a push-up or a sit-up. These things may not seem too important to a lot of people, but it’s an indication of a lack of normal growing up.”
In 1989, White promised Davidow on her deathbed that he would keep her organization going. White kept his word, even today, 25 years later, though the group is now called Blind Sports Organization (BSO).
There is now a whole new generation of blind and visually-impaired athletes taking part in BSO. At the moment, BSO focuses on goalball, judo and beep baseball. “Some of these kids who started with us over 20 years ago are still part of the organization,” said White.
For more information, log onto www.blindsports.org.