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University of Missouri

Listening in Color

An enthusiastic undergraduate calls the shots.

Tarrants portrait

Sophomore journalism student Blake Tarrants, who has been blind since he was a toddler, hosts a sports talk show on KCOU.

Blake Tarrants’ love for sports began on a cold Christmas Eve 2005 in Kansas City, where he and 75,000-plus were on hand as his beloved Chiefs throttled the San Diego Chargers 20-7. Tarrants, however, didn’t see one snap.

Having been blind since he was 18 months old due to encephalitis, the 10-year-old from Blue Springs, Missouri, listened on headphones to the play-by-play call of broadcaster Mitch Holthus amid the legendary roar of Arrowhead Stadium as sleet stung Tarrants’ face.

“I couldn’t play sports, and that elevated my interest in watching and analyzing them,” says Tarrants, a sophomore set to major in radio-TV sports journalism. “The Chiefs-Chargers game was the first time I remember being able to comprehend sports — and sit still long enough to think about them.”

At Mizzou, Tarrants has capitalized on the Missouri Method. He contributes to “Overtime Live,” the sports talk show for the campus radio station, KCOU. He has also hosted the sports segment on “The Pulse,” the station’s hour-long news show.

But Tarrants’ proudest accomplishment has been providing color commentary for Mizzou soccer, a sport he knew little about before the 2014 season. By using his iPhone’s VoiceOver feature, which reads aloud touch-screen functions and text, he studied the Tigers and their opponents.

Even though Tarrants teamed with an experienced colleague who handled play by play, hiccups were inevitable — at one point during the season opener, Tarrants inaccurately described a corner kick situation — but by season’s end he had improved. Tarrants and his team are even finalists for an Intercollegiate Broadcasting System award for their coverage of Mizzou’s senior night against Arkansas.

“The experience showed me that not everything is going to go 100 percent smoothly, but you can make anything work if you just go with it and work with what you have,” Tarrants says. “Our general manager still can’t get over the fact that a blind freshman did a better job describing a soccer game than the senior play-by-play guy.”