An expanding initiative by Special Olympics is contributing to an increase in the popularity of bocce in the U.S. The Special Olympics Unified Sports program promotes social inclusion by empowering individuals with and without disabilities to engage in shared sports training and competition. Recognized unified sports programs are now in more than 4500 schools and 215 colleges and universities.

Since bocce is highly social, easy to learn, and fully accessible regardless of age, gender, ability or disability, it has long been a popular activity for adults. Special Olympics is partnering with States, schools and colleges throughout the U.S. to involve young people in unified bocce teams at the local level.

The effect of these expanding programs is increasing bocce’s popularity across the country not only because young people of all abilities are learning a sport they can continue throughout their lives but also because organized competition also involves coaches, cheer leaders, sponsors, community boosters groups and fans among fellow students, friends, parents and relatives. Often the existence of high school unified bocce teams leads to community support for installing bocce courts in public parks and athletic fields.

According to the Waynesboro Record-Herald, three schools in Franklin County, Pennsylvania have formed new unified bocce teams for this year, sponsoring competitive coed teams of six or eight players, half with disabilities and half without. Greencastle-Antrim physical education teacher and bocce coach Steve Layton observes: “Anybody can do this. If we have a visually impaired student, we can have some adaptations where they can roll the ball. If somebody can’t roll it with their arm, they can use a ramp. We want the athletes to understand that they each bring their own advantages to the program.” Unified Bocce athletes win school letters and teams win regional and state trophies just like all other Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) sports.

Following regional competitions, the PIAA-sponsored unified school bocce season culminates in the State Bocce Finals. Last year the unified bocce team from Bald Eagle High School won the Pennsylvania State championship in its first year of competition. The championship game had been live-streamed in school classes with score updates announced on the school’s public address system. The team returned home behind a parade of fire trucks and decorated cars to an evening victory celebration crowd of over 100 teachers, students, athletes from other school sports teams and community leaders.

Special Olympics sees bocce as a prime vehicle for its “inclusion revolution,” and its growing nationwide initiative with high school youth suggests a bright future for the sport in the U.S. Special Olympics Southern and Northern California sponsor unified school sports and the SoCal division sponsors bocce teams in more than 25 schools.

Who knew? Bocce hours changed on November 1, just like
every year, but competition remains restricted to player-
arranged games under the County Health Order and
posted Reopening Rules.

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