Soccer pitch for blind youth installed on VSDB campus, school has eye on 2028 Paralympics team
A trip to the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind for one Virginia Tech alum went from a potential lucrative business opportunity to a donation toward a passion project. Rodney Hopkins met with teachers and other school officials at the Staunton campus and decided to not only help through his company but to recruit other companies to donate materials and labor.
Hopkins’ business, Innovative Turf Application Consulting, in Gum Spring near Richmond, donated labor and drainage piping for the construction of a new international-level soccer pitch for blind and visually impaired youth on the school’s campus. The pitch, fully completed in April, has rebound panels on each side and goals on each end.
“When we visited the school, it’s touching to see the teachers, and several people came and greeted us. They were full of life and personality, each one that we met,” said Hopkins, a 1993 graduate of Virginia Tech. “You think about the job that they have, it’s a boarding school for the blind and deaf. … These people are taking care of children all week long.
“I’m sure that’s a huge challenge, and to just hear the compassion coming from their hearts in just talking to them, there just was a difference about them that would obviously compel us to help.”
The VSDB Foundation has been securing grants, donations, and other funding to enable students at the school to play “5-a-side,” a form of soccer for visually impaired or blind athletes that features four players and a goalkeeper. A specialized regulation soccer ball with noisemakers inside to allow players to orientate themselves on the pitch.
School officials also hope to develop teams across the country by hosting training camps on the new field and want to see an official USA team organized within the next 10 years to compete in the 2028 Paralympics in Los Angeles.
Currently, the U.S. does not have a 5-a-side fully developed national team, despite the burgeoning interest in soccer across the country.
“With the availability of the specialty pitch, VSDB is able to offer schools for the blind throughout the United States an opportunity to learn the logistics of the game and to establish and maintain their own blind soccer teams,” said Pat Trice, superintendent of VSDB. “The generosity that Mr. Hopkins and others have demonstrated will impact students who are blind or vision-impaired at VSDB, but also nationally, as the sport of blind soccer develops and spreads throughout the United States.”
ITAC not only donated labor and piping for the project, but also enlisted familiar vendors to help with the endeavor and to alleviate costs, according to Jason Melton, the general manager for ITAC and a 1998 graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in wildlife sciences from the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
Harlowe Land Management, Riverside Turf, McGill Compost, Luck Ecosystems and Smith Turf and Irrigation donated materials and labor.
“This was just something that we kind of took on ourselves to say, ‘Hey, let’s reach out to some vendors that we work with in athletic field construction and see if they’re willing to donate some of these materials and their time,’” said Melton.
“I think ‘led’ is the proper word. This pulls on your heartstrings, and it’s a situation where we definitely want to give back.”
ITAC, which Hopkins – who graduated with a degree in agriculture technology and a minor in turf grass management from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – started 21 years ago, renovates and builds athletics fields. Most of its business comes from clients in Virginia, but occasionally the company branches out of state.
A few years ago, ITAC renovated the baseball fields in Williamsport, Penn., home of the Little League World Series.
“We try to work with different local and civic organizations,” Hopkins said. “We’re very active with several churches and do a lot of different things for them. We help out where we can. We can’t do every project, but when we feel it’s the right fit and the right calling, then we do.”