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Unified Bocce Debuts at Upper Perkiomen
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2020-01-22

            Makena Albright joined Upper Perkiomen's unified bocce team looking to make friends. As a captain, the sophomore helps her teammates generate strategy.  "I

Adam Grabinski prepares to take a roll during Upper Perkiomen High School's
first Unified Bocce match on Tuesday.

love to make people happy," Albright said.

            Jaden Klingler, a Special Olympian, joined to improve at the sport. The senior from Hereford also wanted the opportunity to compete for his high school.

            On Tuesday, the coed team debuted before a large crowd of parents, classmates, cheerleaders and other supporters. Two teams of eight players competed against Central Bucks East. They rolled gel-filled balls on courts outlined by PVC pipe and black rope.

            "As a parent, it's great to see your child be able to participate to the fullest of their abilities," said Kerry Drake, the father of Ben, a 20-year-old autistic person who participated in the match. "It's good for my son to be able to perform in front of other people and be accepted for who he is."

            The sport – sanctioned by the PIAA and supported by Special Olympics Interscholastic Unified Sports – is a fully-inclusive co-ed after school sports program which successfully brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities, according to a flier from the organization.  "They train together and compete as equal teammates and through this experience, become friends," the information states.

            Each team is required to have at least an equal number of students who are Special Olympics eligible and students without intellectual disabilities. The inaugural Upper Perkiomen team – which practices Tuesdays and Thursdays – includes 10 of 16 players with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to Shane Thrush, the team's head coach.

            The roster filled up quickly, according to Thrush, the district's transition coordinator and special education teacher for the Upper Perkiomen Work Program. He said the some advertisements on the school's in-house television channel must have helped attract enough players to field two teams.

            "Not many schools are able to field one team in the first year," Thrush said.

            During the match, players with special needs and those without compete together. According to Thrush, they are forced to collaborate on strategy since coaches are only permitted to encourage their players.

            "It's an equal playing field," he said. "When you watch them play, the disabilities vanish. Sometimes you see athletes with disabilities outperform athletes without them."

            According to Thrush, few of the players were familiar with the sport, which required participants to roll a gel-filled rubber ball towards a smaller ball, known as a palina. Four players on each team roll during a frame.

            Albright decided to join the bocce team after playing several lawn matches during the annual field days when she attended the Upper Perkiomen Middle School. She has participated in Perk Pals, a club offered in the high school where non-special needs and special need students meet twice a week to play board games and do crafts and other activities.

            Klingler, who said he couldn't pass up the chance to compete for his school, had played bocce previously on the football field during gym class.  According to Albright, the dirtier the gym school floor, the faster the ball rolls.

            "The game is a little easier on the turf," he said, explaining that the ball roles more even on the outside field than on the gymnasium floor.

            On Tuesday the audience, which nearly filled up the entire small end of the gymnasium stands, closely followed both matches. They responded to a good shot with a polite golf clap. Whenever a ball stopped near the palina, the crowd roared.

            "I was surprised how well the crowd followed the match," Klingler said. "I got a few roars."


 

 

 

 

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