Bowls when you can't see the target
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
NEXT time you have a roll in lawn bowls, try and send a couple down with your eyes closed, and see how you go.
For more than 50 members of the Mid North Coast Vision Impaired and Blind Bowlers Association (VIBBA), bowling towards a target they can't see is a reality.
Having started in August, 1994 with only six members, the group get together each Monday afternoon at one of 14 different clubs in the region.
On the Monday last week, the group gathered at Red Rock.
Don't think that being vision impaired stops them from having just as much fun as the next bowler.
How do you bowl if you can't see the target?
Firstly, along the sides of the rink, numbers are placed at five foot intervals indicating how far from the mat the jack is.
Some members of the club don't attend on a Monday to bowl, but to help out those having a roll.
A helper at the kitty end will act as the skip for everyone.
Yelling out the distance of the end, as well as comments after every bowl as to its finishing position, this person acts as the eyes for the group.
Where the bowlers are, another helper will line the bowlers up, make sure the bowl is on the correct bias, as well offering encouragement.
For the bowlers not totally blind, often the helper would stand about five feet in front of the bowler with legs apart, getting the bowler to aim between their legs to create a close target to aim at.
One of the helpers for the club is John Smith.
Smith has been acting as a helper virtually since day one and is a strong driver behind the success of the group.
A bus from Community Transport will pick up each bowler on the way to the club of the day, but the bus will always pick up Smith first.
Smith knows where all the bowlers live, and his warm greeting each time he picks up a passenger is as much a tradition with this group as the sandwiches during afternoon tea.
For Smith though, who is a life-member, the efforts he puts in really aren't that great.
"I get a lot of satisfaction if I can help a person get a bowl on the jack," he said.
"The smile on their face makes it all worth it."
The helpers need to be on their guard though.
The movie Crackerjack made the 'Swear jar' famous, but if a helper makes an error, money has to go into the Sin Tin.
"If there's a bowl on the wrong bias and it's our fault, we throw some money in the tin," he explained.
Treasurer of the club Ann Hall is also a helper,and explained that the two hours a week on the green was a real highlight for those who are involved.
"The visually impaired people don't have that many activities, and this gives them a team sport to participate in," she said.
"It also provides a social outlet."
The club is always welcoming new bowlers and helpers.
To join, you don't necessarily need to be vision impaired.
It costs nothing to learn and the sandwiches at Red Rock were top shelf.
Any interested parties can contact President Tom Sawtell on 6568 6973.
Sawtell is travelling to Adelaide at the start of May with Wayne Thompson and Lyn Dennehy for the Australasian titles.