When a genetic disease robbed Chris Dodds of his sight, he didn't just give up his passion for sports.

Instead, he utilized his abilities playing a sport specifically tailored to blind and visually impaired athletes — goalball.

Dodds has excelled in the sport, which was created after World War II for veterans who'd lost their sight in combat, and he earned a spot on the U.S. National Team and a bronze medal in the Athens Paralympics. This weekend, Dodds and his Utah teammates will take on the country's best goalball players in the 2008 USA National Goalball Championship at American Fork High School.

"This event is a great opportunity for people to see a fun and exciting sport and experience the best goalball the USA has to offer," said Tony Jepson, Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired and coach of Utah's men's and women's teams.

Opening ceremonies will be today at 5 p.m. and will feature the Jazz Bear. At 6 p.m. the Utah men's team will play its first game, while the Utah women's team will play at 6:45 p.m.

On Friday and Saturday, the tournament continues with the gold medal matches scheduled Saturday for 4 p.m. for the women and 5 p.m. for the men. Afterward, awards will be presented and the USA Paralympic Goalball team will be announced at 6 p.m.

"Absolutely," Jepson said when asked if Dodds would make the squad this summer. "Without a doubt. And (another Utah team member) Lewis Burdette will make that team down the road."

The Utah men are having a great season and won a regional competition in Colorado just last month. In addition to Dodds and Burdette, Nick Gasaway, Marty Langworthy, Quinn Price and Herschel Kelley make up the men's squad, while Trisha Chase, Morgan Oxborrow, Cathy Morgan, Becky Wood, Marnie Jefferies, and Rachel Jepson will represent the women.

Chase, who graduated from Murray High, said she's excited to be playing in front of a home crowd and hopes large crowds will make the event even more exciting. The tournament is free for spectators and there are concessions available. There will be exhibitions for the public to try goalball, Jepson said. Dodds also plans to sign posters for fans when he's not competing.

"I love goalball," said Chase. "The biggest benefit has been just being able to stay in good physical condition." Playing sports gives you the motivation to stay healthy. But the friendships have probably been the best part for me."

There is a shuttle service provided to the tournament, which is at American Fork High School, for blind and visually impaired spectators and volunteers. For more information about this service, please contact Leslie Gertsch at 801-292-1158.

"We hope the community rallies around this unique event to show our support for diversity in sport," said Jeff Robbins, President and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com