Thunder Helps Blind, Visually Impaired Kids Break Down Barriers

About 78 kids proved on Friday that you don’t have to be able to see the basketball to play the game.

It’s a lesson that many of them didn’t fully appreciate before spending the morning with Thunder Youth Basketball coaches.

The coaches ran a skills-and-drills clinic for kids attending NewView Oklahoma’s OWL (Oklahomans Without Limitations) camp, helping challenge the limits of what blind and visually impaired people can do.

“We had a blast … The (visually impaired kids) were just as capable as everybody else,” said Thunder Youth Basketball coach Tyler Blackwell, who has coached several other youth camps this summer. “I told them to dream big, set your goals and go after it – and you can do anything you want.”

No matter what their level of vision, the campers did go for it on the court and were able to pick up some new skills.

“Just going out and shooting baskets – that’s not something they get to do a whole lot, so this has been a great new experience for a lot of them,” added Thomas Larson, director of communications at NewView.

Each camper teams up with a “sighted buddy,” a peer counselor who makes sure they have both guidance and social interaction throughout the week. With every camp challenge – from fencing to rock climbing to basketball – the counselors make sure the camp participants know they can succeed.

“The real unintended benefit is what the sighted kids get out of it,” said Lauren White, NewView president and CEO. “They view people with disabilities differently,” after spending a week with someone close to their age who has significant visual impairment.

McKinley Pratt spent the week as a buddy to Aubry Weatherly and reflected on her experience watching Weatherly overcome challenges all week.

“It just made me realize that anything is possible. Just because people at this camp can’t see as well doesn’t mean they can’t do anything,” Pratt said. “It was really inspiring to be able to see all these campers shooting hoops and dribbling, and doing so well.”

White added that this is the first year they’ve had counselors who themselves had been camp participants in prior years, giving them a chance to develop leadership skills and be role models for the younger kids.

Before they picked up a ball, though, campers got a visit from Rumble the Bison, who ran and bounced around the gym as crew member Jon read a book about keeping fit.

“I saw Rumble kind of talking with the kids,” said Larson. “Not all of them can see him really well, so he was letting them feel his fur – they were having a great time.”

Campers and their buddies rotated through stations with Thunder Youth Basketball coaches, learning dribbling techniques, doing passing drills and even shooting – regardless of how well they could see the basket.

Larson said they placed noisemakers on the basketball goals that emit a beeping noise so every kid could figure out where to shoot.

NewView Oklahoma began the OWL summer camp in 2000 to encourage collaboration, improve confidence and challenge limits for blind and visually impaired children ages 8-18. The free, week-long experience adds new activities every year to encourage new and returning campers to try new activities and break down their barriers. For more information on NewView Oklahoma, visit their website, http://newviewoklahoma.org.