Teri Warram said life changed after learning that her son would soon lose his eyesight completely.
Last year, the Gig Harbor mother found out that Tony, 18, was in the final stages of a degenerative disease that will eventually leave him blind.
Despite struggling with declining vision while growing up, he participated in baseball and basketball — with Mom cheering from the sidelines.
Now, Tony Warram is in his second year playing goalball, a sport specifically designed for the visually impaired that he learned while studying at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver. And Teri Warram still cheers — when cheering is allowed.
On Saturday, Tony played with the Vancouver Lions in the second annual South Sound Throw Down Goalball Tournament, hosted by Metro Parks Tacoma and the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes.
“I love that it’s more intense than football,” Tony Warram said. “There’s no other sport where you’re blindfolded.”
The Lions were one of 14 teams and roughly 50 athletes of all ages from around the Pacific Northwest, including British Columbia, Oregon and Idaho, who gathered at the Topping HOPE Center Boys & Girls Club in South Tacoma.
Goalball was invented in 1946 to help with the rehabilitation of blinded war veterans. It was introduced at the Paralympics in Toronto 30 years later, and has been played at the games ever since.
It traditionally consists of two 12-minute halves and two teams of three players — wearing blackout masks — who attempt to score by throwing a heavy, hollow ball filled with bells into the other team’s goal. The bells help orient the opposing players, indicating the direction of the incoming ball as they try to block it with their bodies; complete silence in the stands is required while the ball is in play.
Parker Ayers, a recreation coordinator for specialized programs at Metro Parks, said goalball started in Tacoma after Metro Parks worked with injured veterans from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and realized there weren’t many programs for visually impaired residents in Pierce County.
“We felt strongly that we needed to bring a sport or recreational opportunity that was specifically geared toward people with visual impairments to Tacoma,” he said.
Heidi Herriott, Ayers’ colleague, coaches the Tacoma Typhoon goalball team.
She said she encourages everyone to try out Paralympic sports, since many people think they aren’t as challenging or competitive.
“That’s not the case,” she said. “We shouldn’t have sports just for the able-bodied.”
Billy Henry, who is visually impaired, is the co-founder and executive director of the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes. He said goalball offers more than competition and camaraderie.
About 70 percent of visually impaired children don’t participate in a physical education program, and Henry said that participating in sports builds self-esteem as well as social and motor skills that translate into a high quality of life.
Tony Warram is an asset to his team; at 6-foot-1, he has a lot of blocking power.
His mother cheered Saturday after he scored the final goal of the game against the Seattle Cobras, tying it 9-9.
Teri Warram said the hardest part of the transition is holding back her cheers.
“I learned real quick to be quiet,” she said, laughing.