Test eyes, hands and mind in soccer board game from Bethel hall-of-famer in Mishawaka – South Bend Tribune

MISHAWAKAArmed with a small paddle more like a large guitar pick the 1970s-era soccer player from Bethel Universitys Hall of Fame taps at a tiny soccer ball.

The hard, round thing skitters across a wooden board game that this star, Roberto Smith, has created. It bumps into colorful pegs that stand in as other soccer players. Smith waits another turn and gives the ball another try. Then another try. Not so easy to hit the goal.

The Honduran immigrant is no longer sprinting with the ball and tempting his college opponents as he had more than 40 years ago. No, but his mind, eyes and hands are working hard in this miniature space. He loves that.

Hence, the name of this game: BelloGoal. Bello is Spanish for beautiful, so it means beautiful goal.

When the ball does land in the goal, it falls on a reversible wooden plate. One side says USA to give thanks to his adopted home. The other side says JESUS because, he said, thats whats kept me going through the years doing this.

Smith, now a retiree who lives in Mishawaka, has tinkered with BelloGoal off-and-on since he conceived it perhaps 25 years ago. It has seen many evolutions, first as a two-person game, now as an interchangeable two- or four-person game.

Hed started with a product made of paper boards, then realized it would get warped if it became wet. Now its wood, and the University of Notre Dames IDEA Center Innovation Lab has agreed to produce it so that he can finally sell it in good numbers more than the handful that had been bought online through its birthing years.

BelloGoal, which makes you think of a tabletop version of foosball, doesnt just have a patent. Matt Leevy, director of Notre Dames Innovation Lab, calls it a highly differentiated product. Translation: Theres nothing like it Ive been able to find.

Besides, Leevy said, it has an heirloom quality that could be passed down to family generations.

As an extra challenge, Smith recently crafted a version that has a puzzle embedded into the playing field. The pieces can be deceptive.

There are pieces that fit other places, he said. It may match up for a while, but eventually it wont work out.

The squiggly borders of the puzzle pieces also slow down the ball as it travels. That adds a different kink as compared with the lightning-fast ricochets of the smooth, non-puzzle board.

Its not just about playing the game, he said in his amiable, gentle voice. Its about getting your mind involved.

Hed donated a couple of games to nursing homes for the therapeutic value of mental engagement and eye-hand coordination, though they mostly were used by staff.

Leevy credits Smith with a wonderful heart and describes him as one of the nicest human beings Ive ever interacted with; hes impossible not to help. That, as the face of a product, can count toward its success, Leevy said, but what entrepreneurs really need is the grit that Smith has shown over the years, to stick with a product.

Shreejan Shrestha, a Notre Dame teaching scholar in industrial design, has worked with Smith to take his designs and adapt them so that the lab could program its industrial laser-cutting machines, Leevy said.

Smith said hed explored other manufacturers who wanted unaffordable fees. Hell pay Notre Dame to produce however many he sells, which Leevy said is his programs way of getting an entrepreneur to the next milestone. Smith will take charge of marketing the game.

The game comes in 18-by-18 inches or 24-by-24 inches, ranging in price from $80 to $140.

It isnt about retirement income for the 69-year-old. If it makes money, he said, hed like to dedicate some of the dollars to help military families.

In a pandemic, a board game like this is suited to people in the same household, but it can be played solo for scrimmage, too.

The youngest of five children, Smith was the last sibling to move to the United States, visiting the South Bend area since his brother was working on a doctoral degree at Notre Dame and then noticing Bethel.

As he enrolled, he immediately signed up for the Pilots soccer team, having grown up playing the sport. By the time he graduated in 1977, hed received the most valuable player award for each of his four years, and he was among the top 10 scorers in the state across those four years. He was inducted into Bethels Hall of Fame in 1995 with a large plaque that reads, Roberto is considered to be the best soccer player to have attended Bethel College.

Sports linger in his brood. Three of his four kids studied at Notre Dame. Some played football. One of them married Skylar Diggins-Smith, the basketball standout at Washington High and Notre Dame who now plays professionally for Phoenix in the WNBA.

Smith has worked an array of jobs, from helping the needy at the old Hansel Neighborhood Service Center to working as a UPS supervisor to a mechanic in an Elkhart factory to a more recent job of selling machines that read credit cards for retailers. But it was his fondness for woodworking that led him to create BelloGoal.

Hes still tinkering with a tool with a sticky side that helps you to pick up the puzzle pieces. And he thinks, if funding ever allows, of one day getting someone to make a BelloGoal app, blending spiritual music to spread the word of God.

Hes set the four goalposts in the game as a nod to the four corners of the world since thats where he hopes the game will sell.

BelloGoal

For more information or to order the board game, visit bellogoal.com.

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Test eyes, hands and mind in soccer board game from Bethel hall-of-famer in Mishawaka - South Bend Tribune

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