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A Look Back on the Road to Paris…1988 Seoul Paralympic Games

Posted April 18, 2024  Goalball

As the USA Goalball men’s team journeys along on the Road to Paris, during the month of April we’ll be taking a peek in the rearview mirror at past Paralympic Games where the U.S. men’s team reached the podium. This week we reflect on the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul, Korea.

The USA Goalball men’s team competing at the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul, Korea, returned all three starters from the 1984 gold-medal squad, so hopes for a repeat podium appearance were high.

Future USABA Hall of Famers Reni Jackson (Louisville, Ky.) and James Neppl (Rock Island, Ill.) joined center George Morris (St. Louis, Mo.) as the returning starters on the squad coached by Michael Hollifield (Spartanburg, S.C.). They were joined on the U.S. team by first-time Paralympians Darryl Holden (St. Louis, Mo.), Jeffrey May (Richmond, Ind.) and Jerry Windell (Indianapolis, Ind.).

Although the U.S. team didn’t train together regularly in the lead-up to the Games, they often did battle with and against each other in the Midwest goalball leagues.

“Most of our training as a team came when we got together for international tournaments and practiced before the Games began,” said Windell. “We were all familiar with each other because we would travel the country together to play in national tournaments. Most of us were located within a couple hundred miles of each other.”

Windell also noted the team would have appreciated the opportunity for more training time together in a resident-type program, although that was probably not feasible.

“For our 1988 men’s team, it probably would have been difficult to train together full-time as we had jobs. Jim Neppl was a practicing attorney, I was holding down a full-time IT job, and Jeff May was a university administrator.”

Officially known as the Paralympic Games for the first time in 1988, the Games in Seoul set the ongoing standard for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held in the same city and at the same venues. The goalball venue was Chamshil Indoor Arena which had hosted the basketball and volleyball competition for the Seoul Olympic Games.

“The facilities were absolutely outstanding,” said Windell. “We stayed in the regular Olympic Village and had our own apartments. The floors were heated. I thought that was really cool. You could get food anytime you wanted.”

The opening ceremony of the Seoul Paralympic Games consisted of much the same program as the Olympic Games opening ceremony and athletes were welcomed with a packed stadium. The 1988 U.S. Disabled Sports Team included 376 athletes and 119 staff. USABA contributed 71 athletes and 25 staff to those numbers.

The 1988 Paralympics represented the first time the U.S. sent one united team to the Games with all participating disability groups. The other three organizations making up the U.S. team were the National Wheelchair Athletic Association (143 athletes, 36 staff), U.S. Amputee Athletic Association (83 athletes, 18 staff) and the U.S. Cerebral Palsy Athletic Association (71 athletes, 31 staff).

The U.S. men’s goalball team went 5-1-1 in the qualification round. After losing their opening match to Yugoslavia, 2-1, they defeated Australia (3-2), Canada (2-1), Italy (1-0), Korea (5-0) and Denmark (2-0), and played to a 0-0 draw with Bulgaria.

“Goalball was different back then,” Windell noted. “The center was more defensive than today. The larger ball moved slower and the center could cover more space going side to side. Unlike today, our centers were geared more toward playing defense and leaving the throwing up to the wings.”

Jackson, who also competed in the javelin, remembers going from one venue to the other during the Games.

“Somedays, I would rush out after a goalball match where I was throwing underhand, and go straight to the track and field venue and throw the javelin overhand.”

Facing Egypt in the goalball semifinals in a rematch of the 1984 gold medal match, the U.S. came away with a penalty shootout victory. That set up a rematch with Yugoslavia, the only team to hand the Americans a loss in the tournament.

After playing to a 0-0 draw through regulation time, Yugoslavia clinched the gold medal by netting two goals in the overtime period.

“We just couldn’t get going,” recalled Windell. “Their center, you couldn’t get anything past him and we had two of the hardest throwers in the world at that time in Reni and Jim Neppl. It was a good team and unfortunately, we ran into a player that was really hot.”

The silver medal made it three medals in three straight Paralympics for the U.S. men’s team. It was the last medal they would win until 2004.

“I was happy that we got silver representing our country, but it wasn’t our national anthem playing,” said Windell. “It was a nice ceremony, yet it was a letdown that it wasn’t us on the top rung.”

Despite not repeating as Paralympic champions, fond memories of the 1988 Games live on in the hearts and minds of the athletes.

“The athletes were put on a pedestal by the people of Korea,” remembers Jackson. “I got surrounded at a bus stop by a bunch of kids wanting my autograph. We had tours set up and I went to the U.S. Embassy and got to meet dignitaries.”

Recalls Windell: “Everything done in Seoul was topnotch, from facilities to transportation, USABA did a great job. It was the best organized athletic event that I’ve ever taken part in.”

The 1988 USA Goalball men's team poses outside the venue.
1988 USA Goalball Men’s Team (l to r): Assistant Coach Tom Culliton, Head Coach Michael Hollifield,
James Neppl, Darryl Holden, Jerry Windell, George Morris, Reni Jackson and Jeffrey May
A silver medal from the 1988 Paralympic Games showing the 1988 logo above a stadium.
Jerry Windell’s 1988 Paralympic silver medal for goalball
A frame showing a red USA jacket, silver medal, belt buckle and with #20 USA jersey belonging to Jerry Windell.
Jerry Windell’s silver medal, goalball jersey and USA team jacket
from the 1988 Paralympic Games