Bellefonte establishes a unified bocce team
Bellefonte Area High School can add one more sport this school year to its winter athletic events – bocce. Bellefonte is among three other schools in Centre County to partner with the state Special Olympics organization to offer a unified PIAA-sponsored competitive sporting activity for students, which include those from the life skills program, known as the athletes, and a group of regular-education students who act as partners.
Under direction of head coach Tammie Burnaford, the district’s assistant superintendent; and assistant coaches Michelle Simpson, district human resources director; and teacher Kevin Hilsey, the bocce team is made of student-athletes Kevin Doyle, Rheya Lott, Adam Marchini and Jadon Rieck, and student partners Addy Manning, Kasie Miller, Olivia Reiter and Leigha Schrader. Evan McMullen assists Principal Mike Fedisson in officiating the home meets.
“It’s a fun opportunity and a great time,” Schrader said. “As a partner, we teach the athletes about the game and understanding of the rules and bring a lot of encouragement.”
Schrader, who most closely works with Doyle, was among a handful of students on the high school’s safety committee selected to be a part of the team. More were interested, but policy prohibits students involved in winter athletics to be a part of the bocce program because it runs during the same season.
Burnaford said the district was contacted last year by Mike Bovino of Special Olympics PA to establish a bocce team at Bellefonte Area School District, and must abide by three requirements:
- Interscholastic Unified Sports High School Team
- Inclusive Youth Leadership
- Whole School Engagement
“I really felt like we needed to do this for so many different reasons,” Burnaford said.
Since, December, the team has met twice a week for practices and will play in three interscholastic bocce matches – the first which was held at home against Bald Eagle Area on Jan. 29. The second match is scheduled 4 p.m. Feb. 21 at State College Area High School and a district match will follow the week of Feb. 25.
*To learn more about the mission of unified sports, watch this video: Special Olympics, Unified Bocce
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD