Hampton gets ball rolling on new sport
Students with and without disabilities will be teaming up for some unified bocce tournaments and competitions, making it the latest team added to the Hampton Township School District sports repertoire.
Unified bocce requires players to roll four balls with the goal of getting closest to an object ball, also known as a pallina, said Mike Bovino, a senior adviser at Special Olympics Pennsylvania. It requires a minimum of six to a maximum of eight players, with an equal number of students with disabilities and students without disabilities on a team, he said.
Bovino said the game is a “social sport” in which players have to work together, including team strategizing and verbal communication.
“It really creates an inclusive environment. Students of all abilities can participate meaningfully,” he said.
Mike Zdinak, Hampton teacher, will be acting as coach along with possibly a fellow Hampton life skills teacher. Games will be played in the gymnasium, he said.
The goal will “promote inclusion and respect and acceptance of others,” said Zdinak, who is also adviser to the school’s Best Buddies program which pairs special needs students with non-special needs students for socializing.
Unified bocce is treated like any other interscholastic sport in a school district, with teams playing against other teams from other schools, said Zdinak.
The sport is for persons of all abilities, said Bovino. The Special Olympics Pennsylvania started providing the program five years ago, and nine other school districts in Allegheny County have joined in since then, as well as ones in Beaver County, he said.
Students on the unified bocce team will wear school colors, and host and travel to games against other teams in the county, said Bovino. There will be weekly practices, just like any other sport, said Zdinak.
Hampton will host one tournament and travel to two or three competitions in late January, according to Bovino.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania provides full funding for the sport, except for transportation or any costs associated with hosting a team, said Bovino. This includes a $1,000 stipend for coaching, uniforms, equipment and any other supplies and materials.
It begins in December and plays until the last week of March, where there will be a county championship game. That winning team will advance to the state championships which will be held March 21-22, in partnership with the basketball state championships in Hershey, Pa., said Zdinak.
Bovino said the basketball state championship reserves a time in the morning for the unified bocce teams to play. And then they provide a medal presentation and trophy to the winners.
Special Olympics partners with 135 Pennsylvania high schools, and 25 counties, plus Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, for unified bocce and/or unified track and field, said Bovino.
Dr. Marguerite Imbarlina, Hampton High School principal, inquired about the sport to Bovino. The Hampton school board approved the sport at its Sept. 10 voting meeting.
Zdinak is certified in coaching special needs bocce teams. He got certified while at Bethany College in West Virginia.
He said it’s a good coincidence.
“Never in a million years I thought I’d use it again,” he said.
Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.