Coaches With Impaired Vision Inspire SI Football Team
A Staten Island football team has two special coaches who are fighting for their team and themselves. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
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Coach Ralph Williams leads the battle cry for his newly-formed team, the Staten Island Bandits, at a weeknight practice in New Dorp.
The 36-year-old football coach gives the team of mostly 18 to 21-year-old young men a pep talk about hard work and not getting discouraged. It's a mantra he's had to live by to survive a genetic eye disease that renders him blind at night and with shrinking peripheral vision in the daytime.
"It's like looking through two straws," Williams says. "You look through, you put straws up to your face and you just notice at nighttime you don't have no vision at all."
Williams and his brother, assistant coach Lee-Michael Dobson, both suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable eye disease that damages the retina and eventually leads to blindness.
Their doctors told them they would lose all sight by the age of 25, a deadline for both that's come and gone, though their vision has gotten significantly worse. Neither can see much off to the side.
"I'm going blind," Dobson says. "I can't play no more. So being that I'm going blind, I have a lot of knowledge of the game and some wisdom that I can hand down to these young men. Maybe they could put it to use like I did."
The Bandits are the newest addition to the Pioneer League, a citywide football club that aims to give young men with few opportunities what it calls "the college football experience without actually being in college." They compete in full gear against other teams all over the city.
To compensate for their imperfect vision, the coaches say they always come to practice prepared, studying plays and films from college football teams. They also say they're also not afraid to ask their players for a little help.
"They don't really miss too much though because they're right there on the field," said wide receiver Robert Alers. "He's mostly on the field. I gotta remind him all the time, 'step off the field, coach.'"
But on the field, the coaches say, is where they see everything clearly.