“It’s the second coming of bocce,” said Vance Toure, Special Olympics New York Director of Program for Unified Sports UCS and Community Engagement.
“We’re aiming to spread it far and wide and it’s been catching like wildfire.”
Toure said bocce was an inclusive sport that catered to people of all abilities, making it ideal for engaging a school’s entire student body in sport, including through unified competitions. Unified sports competitions are those involving people with and without intellectual disabilities playing together in the same teams.
“Bocce is great like that. Even if people haven’t played much sport before, once they realise they can get the bocce ball close to the pallino their eyes light up and the smiles on their faces are so authentic.”
Packabocce courts playing an important role
Toure said many of the schools involved in the program were using inflatable Packabocce courts to introduce bocce to students because of the playing experience they provided and the fact they were easier to set up than older courts made of sections of rigid PVC pipe.
Special Olympics uses the 60-foot-long Competition Packabocce courts for its official competitions but has found a niche in schools for the smaller 30-foot-long Recreation Packabocce courts due to space constraints.
“They are ideal in school buildings because they are a little easier for us to use in small places and take up very little storage room. They can fit in a hallway or gym without taking up too much space, and they are really quick for just one person to set up - teachers often have only 45 minutes to set up and run their sessions.”
Last month a new batch of Packabocce courts was used at Truman High School for a New York Public School’s ‘Train the Coaches’ session. The session introduced bocce to coaches from five new schools and gave a group of students who had never played the sport before a chance to learn the game.
“The session was about bringing in five coaches from five new schools to help grow the game further.”
What’s next for bocce in New York schools?
Toure said the partnership with New York City Schools had created a wave of enthusiasm that Special Olympics hoped to harness to bring inclusive sport to even more people.
“The funding allowed schools to engage their entire student base in sports. People were styled out with jerseys so they all felt like part of the team and it has created a some great momentum.”
Over the coming weeks further Train the Coaches sessions would be held to introduce teachers from more New York schools how to run successful inclusive bocce events and foster a passion for the game.
The next big bocce event will take place during the citywide Inclusion Cup on 14 October. The cup involves a variety of inclusive sports and its bocce competition will see around 100 athletes competing on eight Competition Packabocce courts. This year’s cup will also include an inaugural junior competition, played on the smaller Recreation Packabocce courts and contested by players from 17 schools.
Video: New York City partners with Special Olympics to improve sports accessibility
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