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Sports Article
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Tribe Unified Bocce Qualifies for Playoffs
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            In its third season at Upper Perkiomen High School, the Unified Bocce team continues to thrive. The program, led by head coach Shane Thrush, is able to field two varsity teams.

Aiden Kelly takes his turn for Upper Perkiomen's

unified bocce team last week.

            One of those teams will get to experience the postseason. Upper Perkiomen Gold will compete in the Upper Montgomery County League playoffs, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Pottsgrove High School.

            Both of Upper Perkiomen's varsity units helped post a 3-1 win over Pottsgrove in their final regular match last week. The Gold squad – consisting of Charles Lapinski, Aiden Kelly, Tyler Giruzzi, Erin Ewing, Abby Packard, Danielle Fritchman and Kyle Brown – won both of its games on Thursday, Feb. 9, by scores of 13-1 and 7-2.

            The Blue team – made up of Joel Ruiz Lauren, Maez Keiran McMonagle, Darby Gasda, Lauren Donahue, Larkin Gasda, Mason Burns and Kristina Molnar – split its two games.

            The sport – sanctioned by the PIAA and supported by Special Olympics Interscholastic Unified Sports – is a fully-inclusive co-ed after-school sports program that successfully brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities. 

            Each team is required to have at least an equal number of students who are Special Olympics eligible and regular students. This year's varsity squad includes eight of 15 players with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

           According to Darby Gasda, the experience has taught her the value of inclusivity. She says small gestures of appreciation can make a significant difference in the life of people.  "I love the interaction with students I usually don't spend a lot of time with," said the junior who lives in Pennsburg. "They teach me lessons every day. It's great to see everyone succeed."

            The team, which added seven new players doesn't need to advertise externally, according to Thrush, the district's transition coordinator and special education teacher for the Upper Perkiomen Work Program. He said it recruits several participants through Perk Pals, a club offered in the high school where non-special needs and special needs students meet twice a week to play board games and do crafts and other activities.

            "It's an incredible educational experience for our athletes and their families," he said.

             During each frame, two regular students and two Special Olympians team up to roll gel-filled balls towards a smaller ball, known as a pallina. They drive the strategy and coach each other up, since the coaches are not allowed to interact with the athletes other than encourage them.

            "Sometimes it's a little easier to compete when you can communicate with the coaches," said Darby Gasda, a two-year bocce player who also plays softball. "But it has given me the opportunity to step up a leader, which is super exciting."

            However, each team may call one timeout, when they are permitted to confer, said Thrush, whose coaching staff includes Jen Bamford, Krys Willet and Makenna Phipps.

            Thrush noted the team is fortunate to incorporate several athletes from other sports.  A pair or runners -- including Fritchman, a senior, and Donohue, a junior – are in their first season with the team.






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