West Virginia Wrestling


by Dr. Bill Welker

... on Wrestling: A Sport for All Eyes

I have mentioned many times that the mat sport is truly a unique phenomenon. The following will explain just another reason why.

Wrestling is the only contact sport that offers blind athletes the challenge of competing with their sighted peers. And take it from me, they are accomplishing wonders.

But first, you may ask, "How can the blind learn to wrestle?" Well, before I answer this question, let me digress a bit. I became intrigued with blind wrestling my senior year at college (1969). Because of this interest, a physical education professor gave me the opportunity to work with sightless wrestlers at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind in Pittsburgh. What I saw there amazed me. So, listen carefully.

To learn mat skills (takedowns, reversals, pinning combinations, etc.), the tutor must physically place his sightless matmen in the proper positions (step-by-step) for each maneuver. Of course, it takes longer than the "demonstration technique" used for those who can see, but they learn fast. After a move is taught, the boys "drill, drill, drill" it to perfection.

Now I know what your next question is going to be--"How can they wrestle boys who have normal vision?" This, believe it or not, is very simple. The "finger-touch" method is utilized during matches which involve blind wrestlers. For example, in the neutral or standing position, both participants must start by facing each other, with hands touching. Naturally, for the referee's position (top or bottom), there's no problem because body contact is already made. Thus, readers, wrestling (unlike any other extremely physical sport) offers quite an experience for boys who are visually impaired.

There are approximately 1000 blind adolescents throughout the U.S. who compete in high school wrestling. And surprisingly enough, about 90 percent of their matches during the season are against matmen with normal vision. Furthermore, these sightless contestants are doing a very respectable job. So consider the following facts.

First, blind competitors are qualifying for state wrestling tournaments all across the country. Now keep in mind, we are not referring to competition for the sightless alone, but the official tourneys set up for all secondary schools in each of the states.

Secondly, you might wonder, "Have any of these young men won state championships ?" You bet they have! There have been at least two champs from Virginia, one in Alabama (a two- time state champion with an overall record of 118-13-0), and four state winners in Arkansas. Other state championships with blind placewinners include Texas, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, and Florida. When you compare the percentage of blind wrestlers to all participants in the sport (1000 to over 220,000), I think it can honestly be said that they have been performing quite well.

Finally, there are many states in which schools for the visually handicapped have actually been pioneers in the development of wrestling. For example, Arkansas is one such state. The Arkansas School for the Blind not only initiated the mat sport, but also won both the junior high and high school state tournaments in 1981.

Thus, as you can plainly see, the sightless have profited immensely from wrestling (and vice versa). They have competed in the real world and savored victory. Through adversity, struggle, and determination, blind athletes have proved that "Wrestling is indeed--A Sport for All Eyes!"

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Updated July 28, 1997