Monday, August 23, 2010

The Eyes On the Isles

There are always stories of overcoming adversity; stories celebrating the human spirit -- especially in sports. But it is rare to hear an inspirational story of a sports fan. Well, the New York Islanders have a good one.

His name is John Panarese, and he is another Islanders fan that has found a voice through blogging on the Internet as a contributor to Eyes on the Isles with Gary Harding. But John is far more than your average hockey fan, because he comes from a very different vantage point. John is blind, and his love and passion for the game and the Islanders comes with challenges that he overcomes daily with the use of amazing new technology designed for the sight impaired.

John has been an Islander fan since his Uncle Steve first paid one of his nephews a dollar to change the station on the TV to an Islander game. It was money well spent. A few years later, Uncle Steve explained the game to the boys developing their understanding and love of the game. But as any die-hard fan in the early days, he also instilled in them a hatred for their rivals, the New York Rangers. These were the Islander glory days, as championship after championship built a passionate fan base.

In 1985, John had the opportunity to meet some of those Islander legends at a practice session. Autographed photos still hang on his walls from that memorable afternoon, including one from John’s favorite player, John Tonelli. John has some vintage jerseys in his closet, but only one has a name on it, and it says “Tonelli.”

For more than a decade the Panarese family - Joe, Chris, Stephen, Glenn and sister Lori - shared season tickets with two other friends, making them an affordable habit and ensuring the seats were filled for each home game. “Those, to me, were the most enjoyable years as a fan. It’s hard to explain, but even listening to games on the radio and being at the games themselves is so much better as an experience as listening to them at home. I used to make about 20 or 25 games a year, and I can clearly recall the 1993 playoff run and an overtime victory over the Penguins that led to the upset. Unfortunately, money got to be a problem for a few of us, as well as the commitment, which caused us to have to drop the season ticket plan. I can’t tell you how much I miss those days.”

Hockey was definitely a family affair, as a few birthday celebrations and even brother Chris’ bachelor party started in the Panarese’s second home - the Coliseum. John even had the message “Dead Man Walking” posted on the scoreboard for his brother and his impending nuptials.

For the past several years, John has followed the team on the radio and on the Web. The way the NHL has expanded their coverage on the Web has made an impact on John’s experience as a fan. “I am one of those hockey geeks who checks out and reads the articles as well as the stats. I’ve been playing Fantasy Hockey over the last three seasons and, for the first time, I bought a subscription to the NHL online package. To be honest, this modern age of information has basically expanded my world exponentially in so many different ways.”

Last season, when Gary Harding alerted the PR staff that John and his brother Stephen would be attending a game together, he told them of John’s inability to get the radio feed inside the Coliseum, which would make him rely on his brother for game play-by-play. Even though it was Stephen’s birthday, it was John who got the present when he and his brother were invited up to the press box to sit behind the MSG box to hear the game as it was happening. “It was really fascinating getting a ‘behind-the-scenes’ perspective on what goes on, and I spent the game alternating between using a headset to hear the play or just taking the headset off to listen to the game being called live. Of course, the icing on the cake was the victory by the Isles and a very well played game to boot!”

Advances in technology have improved the lives of those who are sight impaired and John is familiar with all of them as a reseller of adaptive hardware and software products for visually impaired users. He is also an Apple Business Affiliate and trains and supports users on the Mac application called VoiceOver. The company is called Technologies for the Visually Impaired, Inc in Hauppauge, NY, and their web address is If you know anyone who is visually impaired and could benefit from the advanced technologies that are now available, check out the Web site. You will be inspired.

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