The atmosphere in the Bradford High gym was much quieter than during other winter sports, but the team pride and student effort was apparent during the only home match for Bradford’s Unified Indoor Bocce Team on Wednesday.
The team is made up of eight students and was created as part of the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Interscholastic Unified Sports Program.
Unified Sports is a fully inclusive co-ed after-school high school sports program. It successfully facilitates social inclusion by bringing together students with and without disabilities on teams for training and competition.
The bocce team practices two days a week. Equipment and uniforms are provided by the Special Olympics.
This year, they hosted Oswayo Valley and will travel to Port Allegany to compete. There will also be finals for the top teams.
Each match is a best of three games, with five frames per game. During each frame, four students from each team have a single chance to roll. The team with the ball closest to the pallino, a small ball of a different color that is thrown at the start of the match, earns points. Additional points are earned based on the location of other balls rolled.
During Wednesday’s match, Bradford earned points during the first two frames of Game 1. However, Oswayo Valley rallied to claim victory in both games, 6-3 and 11-0. The two teams played a third game as an exhibition.
“I thought they did amazing for their first match,” said Bradford Superintendent Katy Pude. “I am proud of both teams.”
Jennifer Morgan, BAHS Director of Special Education, explained that school officials have been discussing the possibility of a unified sports team for years, considering various possibilities. Then, Pude was contacted about the potential interest to have a Unified Bocce team at Bradford High. Mike Bovino, head of the Special Olympics, participated in a conference call with Morgan and Bradford High Athletic Director Mike Erickson to discuss the various details of the program before a commitment was made.
“Collectively, it wasn’t too hard of a decision. We were in. The team follows a lot of the PIAA regulations, so signups were held and the students had to have physicals. They aren’t allowed to be involved in another sport during the season,” Morgan said. “The kids on the team are so excited. We hope to continue this and expand.”
Morgan said one possibility for the future for BAHS is a Unified Track and Field team, provided there is interest.