It was hot and sunny Tuesday when Perkins students assembled outside for a soccer game. Students with blindness or visual impairment couldn't see the ball. Some had never before played the sport. But the day was a thrilling success, thanks to some adaptive equipment and expert instruction from the Liverpool Football Club (LFC).
Based in Liverpool, England, the team spends time every week throughout the year teaching soccer to students from Liverpool's school for the blind. LFC makes it their mission to do the same on the road when trainers, coaches and legends of the team tour North America every two years.
The day at Perkins – LFC's second visit since 2012 – was a chance for students to try a new sport with tips and encouragement from the game's very best. After some initial stretching, they dribbled and kicked balls while their trainers shouted encouragement and advice.
"They're having so much fun, they don't even realize they're learning," said Tracey Polimeno, an adaptive physical education teacher at Perkins.
The soccer balls looked typical, but these were adapted for individuals without sight, containing bells to offer players audible cues. And the trainers, which included legends Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush, talked constantly to students, describing the ball's location, where a student should place his or her foot, and how to move the ball forward using a dribble or a kick.
Depending on students' needs, trainers guided some by the arm, and directed others vocally, calling out, "Come on, give it a kick!" and "Keep coming, towards my voice, that's right – brilliant!"
Students who had initially been reluctant were excited to succeed at kicking the ball through the "goalposts," two balls set about 10 feet apart. "I can't believe I did that!" said Jamie, 16.
"Kicking is my favorite part!" exclaimed Madison, 8.
But the LFC had one more surprise in store. When a large red bird strutted across the field – LFC's team mascot Mighty Red – excitement bubbled over as each student jockeyed for a chance to hug and shake hands with the velvety creature.
As far as the LFC is concerned, such events are valuable opportunities to spread the joy of "football" to people with disabilities.
"It's all about fun," said Forbes Duff, LFC international activity manager.
View more photos of Liverpool FC's visit to Perkins »