Ear on the Ball: Blind Kids Play Tennis
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Students at the California School for the Blind are learning to play a form of tennis adapted for the visually impaired. Turning their ears into eyes, these budding tennis players are expanding the boundaries of what the blind can do. (Oct. 29)


AP VIDEO - AP CLIENTS ONLYHome video and stills - courtesy Ayako MatsuiDATELINE: Fremont, California(VO: Blind students practice hitting tennis balls; set up shots of student Austin serving and trying to return serve)(VOICE-OVER)LEARNING TO PLAYING TENNIS IS HARD ENOUGH. NOW TRY IT WHEN YOU CAN'T SEE. THAT'S WHAT THESE STUDENTS ARE DOING AT THE CALIFORNIA SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND. THEY'RE LEARNING A VERSION OF TENNIS ADAPTED FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED.(SOT/Austin, Blind Student Tennis Player)"I like hitting the ball hard across the gym. I've done pretty good. At first it was hard. I try to make sure the tennis ball goes across the court. I still keep hitting the wall and stuff. But it's going pretty good."(VO: Blind students playing on the court. Tight shot of junior tennis racket. Tight shot of hand shaking adapted tennis ball. Set up shot of Mary Alice Ross working with students.)(VOICE-OVER)BLIND TENNIS FEATURES A SMALLER COURT, LOWER NET AND JUNIOR TENNIS RACKETS WITH BIGGER HEADS AND SHORTER HANDLES. PLAYERS USE A SPECIAL FOAM BALL FILLED WITH BEADS THAT RATTLE WHEN IT HITS THE GROUND OR RACKET.(SOT: Mary Alice Ross, Adapted Physical Education Teacher)MARY ALICE: "They think I can't do that. There's no way I can do that. And then they come to this school, and we teach them how to play tennis. And they say, 'That is the coolest.'" COURTESY: Ayako Matsui(VO: Archive footage of blind tennis creator Miyoshi Takei and opponent in long rally during 2008 blind tennis championship. Still photos of Takei.)(VOICE-OVER)BLIND TENNIS WAS INVENTED IN JAPAN IN THE 1980S BY MIYOSHI TAKEI, WHO DOMINATED THE SPORT UNTIL HIS DEATH LAST YEAR. ADAPTED TENNIS IS PLAYED WIDELY IN JAPAN AND IS GAINING POPULARITY IN OTHER ASIAN COUNTRIES.(VO: Tennis Serves founder Sejal Vallabh teaches tennis to a blind student at the Perkins School for the Blind in Mass.)(VOICE-OVER)TWO YEARS AGO, AN AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT NAMED SEJAL VALLABH ENCOUNTERED BLIND TENNIS WHILE DOING A SUMMER INTERNSHIP IN JAPAN.AN AVID TENNIS PLAYER, SHE DECIDED TO BRING THE SPORT TO THE U.S., STARTING WITH THE PERKINS SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND NEAR HER HOME IN MASSACHUSSETS.(NATSOT/Sejal Vallabh, Founder of Tennis Serves, speaking to a student)"After you hit, can you see if you can keep your racket going all the way through so you don't stop? 'OK, I'll try to remember that.' Can I see that? It's called follow-through. Now can I see that? (Girl hits ball) Nice."(VO: Outside shot of California School for the Blind; blind students reading in Braille in class; students playing in jazz band; Teacher John Healy coaching blind students playing tennis)(VOICE-OVER)THE CALIFORNIA SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND IS NOW ONE OF THREE AMERICAN SCHOOLS THAT TEACHES THIS ADAPTED FORM OF TENNIS. THE STATE-SUPPORTED SCHOOL OFFERS MANY ACTIVITIES AND SPORTS ADAPTED TO THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED. BUT NONE OF THEM IS AS DIFFICULT AS TENNIS. (VOICE-OVER)(SOT/John Healy, dorm counselor and adapted tennis teacher)JOHN HEALY: "So the hard part is being able to hear it on the first strike, move in and intercept it and hit it back before the third one comes. And they have to do it completely based on hearing, and that can be very difficult. (VO: Sebastian serving and trying to return tennis balls)(VOICEOVER)SOME STUDENTS WERE SKEPTICAL WHEN THEY FIRST HEARD ABOUT ADAPTED TENNIS.(SOT/Sebastian"Tennis? How could blind people play tennis? But then I was like blind people can do anything they want. If you set your mind to it, then you can do it."(VO: Blind girl hitting tennis ball)(VOICE-OVER)BY TURNING THEIR EARS INTO EYES, THESE STUDENTS ARE EXPANDING THE BOUNDARIES OF WHAT THE BLIND CAN DO. TERRY CHEA, ASSOCIATED PRESS, FREMONT, CALIFORNIA