Mifflin County adding unified bocce
LEWISTOWN — Mifflin County High School has added a unified bocce team for the upcoming winter sports season, according to Mifflin County athletic director Tish Maclay.
The team, which will compete as a member of the Mid-Penn Conference, is looking for players for the 2020-21 season. Practices will begin on Nov. 30 and competitions will begin the week of Jan. 11, according to Maclay. Matches will be played inside the Mifflin County High School main gym with 3:30 p.m. start times.
As a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Unified Sport, bocce is a fully-inclusive co-ed sport that brings students together to compete.
Unified bocce will allow student athletes of all abilities to compete, earn varsity letters and be included in the high school athletics experience. Any student that is in 9th-12th grade, or is receiving services from the school district up until the age of 21 are eligible to play.
A unified bocce team must have a minimum of three Special Olympics-eligible athletes (defined as having an intellectual disability, development disability or some type of autism or cognitive delay) as well as three students without a disability. If there are eight members on a team, the ideal composition is four Special Olympics athletes and four students without an intellectual disability, although schools are allowed to have 5-3, or 3-5 as long as the minimum number of Special Olympics athletes are on the roster.
The coach of the 2020-21 bocce team is Billie Jo Heverly. Mifflin County had been looking for an opportunity to include athletes with special needs, according to Heverly said.
“We have been discussing — for a least the four years I have been with the district –incorporating some of sort of sporting event that students with disabilities can compete in, whether it is Special Olympics or some other option,” Heverly said. “Cindi Marsh, the director of student services, really helped make this happen for us.”
The Mid-Penn Conference’s addition of unified bocce this year gave Mifflin County a way to allow students with disabilities to compete.
“We have talked to other schools that have incorporated the sport and everyone said what a great opportunity it provided for their students,” Maclay said. “The MPC decided to add the sport this season, so it was a great time for Mifflin County to add bocce. It’s our goal to raise interest from our students in the new sport to incorporate it into all phases of our athletic culture in Mifflin County.”
The partnership with the Special Olympics allows the sport to be a unique experience for athletes with disabilities, as well as regular education students.
“The idea of taking out disability and focusing on ability is very exciting for all the athletes,” Heverly said. “All the students should be given an opportunity to join sporting events, but not all sporting events meet the needs of all of our students. Unified sporting events can.”
Maclay added that the Special Olympics have been especially helpful in providing the school with resources, information and bocce equipment. While the school has received several waivers from students with disabilities to play, the school is searching for other students to play, according to Heverly and Maclay.
“I already received several waivers from numerous student with disabilities and I am hopeful for the regular education population to follow suit,” Maclay said.
“My hopes for the team are growth, building connections and friendships, fun and unity,” Heverly said.
Mifflin County will compete against Halifax, Upper Dauphin, Red Land and Lower Dauphin in the Mid-Penn and could compete against Bald Eagle, State College and Bellefonte in non-conference matches.
“Some surrounding schools like Bald Eagle, State College and Bellefonte have had unified bocce and all echoed the positives,” Maclay said. “We feel bocce is a great opportunity for Mifflin County athletes and the PIAA has a state championship for unified bocce.”
“The value is teaching the principle of meaningful involvement,” Heverly said. “Teaching these students that it is OK to have different ability levels and they each bring a unique trait to the team that is just as valuable as the next athlete. They are all equally important and our success rides on the shoulders of all of them together.”
Any athlete looking to sign up for unified bocce can contact the Mifflin County High School Athletic Department.