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20140211 Blind-Congress JS IMG 6592 featureFirst, about a half dozen children gathered in a circle to review rectangular boards representing the tennis court with braille numbering.

Then, they were led around the gymnasium, bending down to feel a roped taped down to mark the boundaries of the makeshift court. Next, they felt the net after crossing to the other side.

The visually impaired children are part of a movement in the United States to play blind tennis, which was started in Japan in 1984. It’s played just like tennis for those with sight, but servers must first ask if his or her opponent is ready before serving and a special ball that jingles is used.

Eunice Santos, whose 14-year-old son has been blind since birth, said the vision of Miradas de Esperanza, an organization based in Reynosa that is spreading the sport through Tennis for the Blind in Texas, is to participate in the Paralympics in 2020.

It only started in the Valley in June, but Santos said her son, Salvador Villa, has been practicing daily. It showed as Villa, the oldest participant, easily found the tennis ball as organizers bounced it for each child to take a swing at.

“Japan has adults playing in national levels, but they’re adults,” Santos said in Spanish. “We’re the first organization to carry children.”

Those attending the International Blind Tennis Congress in Mission on Monday not only had a chance to see the children get acquainted with the sport, but also watched an exhibition match between the top tennis players in Japan versus the top team from Mexico.

Mission City Manager Martin Garza said there were people representing several countries, including South Korea, Spain and Australia.

Santos said she’s seen her son gain self-esteem, confidence and optimism at being able to compete on a national level and not being limited by his capability.

“This is a big opportunity for them,” she said. “We want to bring out the kids, so that they know they’re not just blind, and they don’t feel like they don’t have a choice and they can’t do anything. They can play and have something to cheer for and be happy.”

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