When Perkins opened its doors in 1832, children who were blind were often assumed to be weak and vulnerable to illness. Fearing they might be injured, their families discouraged them from enjoying physical activity – treating them as invalids and preventing them from running, jumping and playing.
Perkins School for the Blind’s first director, Samuel Gridley Howe, believed that such a cautious approach was unnecessary, so he encouraged students at Perkins to play and exercise during their recess breaks each day. With fresh air and exercise, students at Perkins grew stronger and had more energy to tackle their increasingly rigorous schedules.
In 1839 the school took over the former Mount Washington House hotel in South Boston. The new campus included miles of walking paths and was close to the Atlantic Ocean, which the boys bathed in daily – even in cold weather. Playground equipment was installed Perkins’ South Boston and Jamaica Plain campuses in 1908 and was instantly popular.
In 1912 Perkins moved to its current home in Watertown, Massachusetts. The spacious new 38-acre campus included a small pond for rowing and skating, while the main building housed a swimming pool, bowling alley, gymnasium and an elevated track with special hand guides for the runners.
Shortly after the move to Watertown, the boy’s athletic team beat Framingham High School in an indoor track meet hosted at Perkins. In the years that followed, students at Perkins competed against local public and private schools, as well as other schools for the blind.
Starting in 1917, Perkins boys and girls both participated in on-campus athletic competitions that continued throughout the academic year. In June, the residential cottage with the most points won a trophy or a banner that students proudly hung in their living room.
In the 1970s and ’80s, yearbook biographies of graduating seniors often highlighted their achievements in wrestling, track, swimming, baseball, basketball, bowling and gymnastics, among other sports.
Perkins commitment to physical education remains strong to this day. Every year, student athletes compete in Eastern Athletic Association for the Blind (EAAB) events, including swimming, wrestling, cheerleading, goalball and track. With the help of their teachers and families, students develop personal fitness regimes, adapted to their individual skills and needs.
Perkins also hosts an annual Camp Abilities event, which allows students who are blind or visually impaired from nearby public schools to join Perkins students and participate in a variety of competitive and noncompetitive sports, ranging from goalball to stand up paddle boarding, and from tandem biking to rock climbing.
In 2015, the school opened a new on-campus playground, which includes a wheelchair-accessible play structure, slides, a swing set, a carousel and more. It’s designed to encourage younger students – including those with additional disabilities – to be physically active.
As students happily clamber on the playground’s elaborate play structure or spin around on the accessible carousel, they’re active proof of something Perkins’ third director, Edward Ellis Allen, said a century earlier: “Hopefulness is a state of mind dependent on physical vitality.”
What You Can Do
Learn more about all the great opportunities at Perkins for kids with visual impairments to participate in sports, physical education and play. Activities range from a special Adapted Physical Education and Sports Day to an on-campus adapted playground for youngsters to the annual Camp Abilities for high schoolers who are blind.
Make a gift to support Perkins’ innovative programs that give students who are blind opportunities to play sports like golf, track, goalball, skiing and more. Sports not only help children who are blind lead heathier lives, they teach essential lessons about teamwork, self-confidence and resilience.