Burrell School District students have a new sport to participate in, thanks to the support of Special Olympics Pennsylvania.
The district offers a Unified Bocce program, an inclusive, co-ed sport designed to give more opportunities to general and special education students. The district board approved the program recently as a collaboration with Special Olympics, which has agreed to pay team expenses for two years, including buying uniforms and providing coaching expertise.
Bocce is a winter team sport that uses large and small balls. The idea is to roll larger balls close to a smaller ball, known as a pallino. Players earn points based on how close they roll the Bocce balls to the pallino.
There are more than 300 Unified Bocce programs in the state of Pennsylvania. The sport evolved throughout the state as a way to offer opportunities for special needs students to enjoy athletic and team activities. School leaders hope Bocce gives special education and general education students real-life experiences through competition and team participation.
Burrell joined a group of several other regional school districts that have developed Unified Bocce programs, said Drake D'Angelo, Burrell's athletic director. "I saw the positive impact it had and wanted to bring that to Burrell," D'Angelo said.
Burrell is now fielding two teams of eight players, for a total of 16 general education and special education students participating, he said.
"At Burrell, we treat this the same way we treat all of our other winter sports," D'Angelo said. "And it was added to all of the materials sent out to students on participation in winter sports."
Playoffs are held locally, regionally, and at the state level. Teams are made up of six to eight athletes. The teams practice a minimum of twice a week and participate in at least three competitions during the season.
The Unified Indoor Bocce season runs from Nov. 18 through February, with playoffs and championships held in March. The Unified Bocce state championship is played at The Giant Center in Hershey, which is the same location that serves as the state high school basketball championships. The Bocce championship is played on the same court as the state basketball championships on the same weekend.
D'Angelo said that Burrell school leaders hope to see the community embrace the new sport for students by attending games when possible. "We would love for people to attend our home matches that will be held on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 at 4 p..m. in the Burrell High School gym."