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South Valley Journal

Basketballs that beep and hoops that honk: P.E. class is fun for blind student

Jun 05, 2019 03:59PM ● By Jet Burnham

Students take a shot at playing blind, following the sound of a beeping ball with their eyes closed while a sighted teammate assists. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

It’s a typical P.E. class, with students running around, throwing and catching a ball. Except half of them have their eyes closed, and the ball they are frantically trying to catch is shrieking with a piercing tone. The game is called ultimate round ball, and it is the new normal for P.E. class at Providence Hall High School—all because Conner Green, who is blind, wanted a normal gym class experience. 

“Blind kids can do most everything; they just need a different way,” said Green. Because he is blind, he is often left out of the fun by those who assume the activities are too hard for him.

“I want be strong,” said Green. “I like to be pushed, actually.”

P.E. teacher Kathy Howa decided there was no reason Green couldn’t physically participate in her class activities. So, she researched on the internet and found sound-based equipment that would allow him to play with the rest of the class.

“He's a kid that wants to be normal—he is normal,” she said. “And that's the way he's going to be treated in my class to the most that I can do in a safe way.”.

In class, they sometimes play games that rely on sounds and involve blindfolds. But most of the time, students play soccer and kickball and baseball the way they usually do: following the ball with sight, while Green tracks it by sound.

“They’re the same game but just different tweaks,” said sophomore Jaden Lopez, a student in the class.

The balls they kick emit a high-pitched tone. Students run around bases that beep loudly, and they shoot ringing balls into a hoop that alerts its location with a shrill call. Their frisbee broadcasts its trajectory with a shrill shriek.

Green said Howa is a genius with the creative ways she has adapted the games.

“She let me do all the things that other kids do,” he said. “And she never has said ‘you can’t do.’ I can play more games with those kids like the same as them.”

Green moved here from China five years ago. While he sometimes struggles with speaking English, the 18-year-old excels in his P.E. and weightlifting classes.

“He’s just like everybody else,” said Lopez. Except that Green can out-jump the rest of the class in jump roping. “Even when we do push-up challenges, he’s always on top,” admits Lopez.

Howa said students learn a lot from Green. He introduced them to goal ball, a game he said blind soldiers used to play.

“You have to use your hearing and block the ball when the ball comes,” Green explained. The students’ experience playing the game blind-folded gave them appreciation for some of the challenges Green experiences daily, said Howa. But she said he never complains—unless she does something such as just hand him a ball instead of throw it to him.

“He doesn't want special privileges; he wants to earn things on his own,” she said. “His attitude is so positive and so inspirational because he wants to be as normal as he can be.”

Howa said Green is always cracking “sight” jokes. 

“I tell him his job ought to be a comedian, because he is hilarious,” she said. “He will pop something at you from nowhere, and it's like you are about to just die laughing.”

Howa said in 25 years of teaching, she’s never had a student like Green.

“This kid's changed my life, actually,” said Howa. “He's come into a part of my career that has just given me excitement and inspiration because of who he is and his attitude.”

Beeper Budget

When local news recently spread reports that Kathy Howa used her own money to buy a basketball with ringing bells inside for her blind student, she began getting money and offers of donations from around the country. She turned them down—because it turns out Providence Hall High School already has a P.E. budget.

“I'm new here, so I didn't realize they had a budget,” said Howa. “So, I just went and bought the first beepers for the basketball. And then they told me they had this wonderful budget, so that actually helped me buy the rest of the stuff through the school.”

The equipment will stay in the department for the next blind student, Green’s younger sister, who will be in Howa’s class next year.