Blindness Doesn't Deter Spriggs's Mat Vision

Michael Spriggs is blind, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming one of the most valuable players of the C.H. Flowers wrestling team.Video by Atkinson & Co.Read the Story
By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2008

Michael Spriggs grabbed on to a teammate's shoulder and headed for the gymnasium wall, where William Ngakoue, a 215-pound junior on the C.H. Flowers High School wrestling team, rested after winning his first match. Leaning in closely, Spriggs peppered Ngakoue with questions about whether the advice he had given him before the match had helped.

"I wanted to know what he was thinking out there, what kind of moves he was using," said Spriggs, a 189-pound senior. "I'm glad he used the techniques I taught him."

Ngakoue carefully chose his words to describe the match to Spriggs, including the reversal that led to the eventual pin. He had to be very specific, because Spriggs couldn't see the match.

Spriggs, who is nearing the end of his final season as a high school wrestler, has been blind for more than five years. For two of those years, he also has been one of the most valuable members of the Flowers team.

"He shows me how to do things instead of telling me," Ngakoue said. "He knows what he's talking about."

Though Spriggs had limited wrestling experience prior to enrolling at Flowers in August 2006, he proved a quick study, primarily because he yearned to play a contact sport. After going 13-12 last season, he is 17-9 this season and is the third-seeded 189-pounder in this weekend's Prince George's County championships.

He has accomplished this despite being visually impaired his entire life. Spriggs was born with cataracts in both eyes and underwent surgery at 3 months to have them removed. Before he turned 6, doctors diagnosed glaucoma in both eyes. And a freak accident at 13 triggered a rapid descent into total blindness.

"Everything that could go wrong for him with his vision has," said his father, also named Michael Spriggs.

Spriggs is able to compete because of a simple rule modification by the National Federation of State High School Associations that allows blind wrestlers to face sighted opponents: Both wrestlers must begin the match with their hands touching and always must remain in contact. If contact is broken at any point, the referee blows his whistle and the two reconvene at the center to "touch up."

Because he relies on contact to wrestle, Spriggs often is the aggressor in his matches, lunging at his opponents with his strong upper body and anticipating their defense. Flowers team captain Zane McBride said the way Spriggs wrestles is "like taking a leap of faith."

Parkdale junior Emmanuel Omolola, who lost to Spriggs in their first meeting earlier this month, said Spriggs's blindness got in his head. "I got scared, thinking maybe he's not really that good, but he's amazing," Omolola said. "He's really strong. He has this amazing stamina."

Spriggs is one of the approximately 93,600 blind or visually impaired school-age children in the United States, according to the National Federation of the Blind. What separates him from many others, however, is his ability to have assimilated almost seamlessly with the sighted student population at Flowers.

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