Feature, Sports

Jingle Bells Bring More than the Christmas Spirit

Nick Temperine plays soccer with Hi-5 as well, but his favorite sport to play? “Basketball.” (c) 2015 Hi-5 Sports

By Nicole Hansen CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. (NCC News) — Becoming a professional athlete may be a dream for many children, but for one girl, just being able to shoot a basketball near the hoop is a dream come true. And it’s all because of some jingle bells.

Jim Fitzgerald, the founder of what’s now known as Hi-5 Sports, remembered one girl who was completely blind, but was able to learn how to shoot a basketball by using metal bells on the net, rim and inside the ball.

Hi-5 Sports is a program founded in New York’s Capital Region for children with disabilities that allows them to play six different sports, including basketball. Hi-5 provides a way for kids with physical and developmental disabilities to socialize with other kids, and helps them develop beyond their disabilities.

When a girl came down to Hi-5 during basketball season, she had a big obstacle to overcome: she was completely blind.

“She was mentally very strong,” Fitzgerald said. “But she was blind. Nothing, no vision. No peripheral vision, no nothing.”

Fitzgerald was able to teach her how to dribble the ball by hearing the ball’s bounce and adjusting its location with her hands. Then he decided to try to teach her how to shoot.

Since she couldn’t see, Fitzgerald tried to help her get a feel for the basket.

“Measure the rim,” he told her. “Just put your hands around the rim. Get some sense of two feet.”

Even though she could get a sense for that, Fitzgerald said there was still something missing. So the next week, he brought some metal jingle bells to the game.

“I tie them to the hoop,” he said. “I tie them to the net. So when she shot the ball, if it hit the rim or the net, the bells would go off.”

Fitzgerald also put some bells inside the ball to help the girl get an even better sense of where the ball was.

Once he explained the bells to the girl, he would have her take a couple dribbles, and then shoot the ball.

“She couldn’t even believe it, it was like she was now playing basketball,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said this then allowed him to be able to work with multiple kids at once, while also helping this girl. She was able to play on her own, with only the help of one of the program’s non-disabled volunteers.

“She didn’t need me,” Fitzgerald said. “I got to work with the other kids too. It was like she’s playing basketball.”

Nick Temperine said he loves to practice for Hi-5 games at home with his new basketball. (c) 2015 Nicole Hansen

Jim Fitzgerald, founder of Hi-5 Sports, started the program more than twenty years ago all because of a birthday party. (c) 2015 Nicole Hansen