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Bocce team heading to states

Allied News - 3/11/2017

SLIPPERY ROCK ? Grove City special needs students will play bocce ball in a state tournament at Giant Center in Hershey on March 24.

Hannah Mowry, Ciaran Gallagher, Brandon Cross, Sienna Vogel, Jordan Grandy, Maggie Morton, Ashley Biddle and Tim Guyette are the local champs in the league, which is sponsored by Special Olympics Pennsylvania's Interscholastic Unified Sports program at Slippery Rock University.

The bocce league includes players with a special needs student paired with non-disabled students.

The program began last year, but students in the league had a full bocce season this year, which enabled them to qualify for states.

"This is the first time the winner of the area championships gets to go to states in Hershey," said Wendy Fagan, director of the Adaptive Physical Activity program at SRU, which runs the IUS program.

"We were so excited we won but then reality hit, 'We're going to states,'" said Jennifer Connelly at Monday's school board meeting. She is the director of public services with the district, which includes overseeing special education.

The local IUS league began with four high schools last year ? Grove City, Slippery Rock, Sharpsville and Hermitage ? and this year added Lincoln (in Ellwood City), New Castle, West Middlesex and Wilmington, Fagan said.

"The new schools were phenomenal," she said. "They had bands, cheerleaders and students who came to watch. It was a great year. Schools are doing a good job of embracing it and promoting it to the schools."

Fagan said other districts are already wanting to be added to the program for next year. "People are knocking down the door and saying, 'Can we get involved? It's generating a lot of interest. I'm excited to be part of that," she noted.

She plans to add four more to the league next year, she said.

"We're reaching more schools with more kids. We want to keep it growing every year until everyone in PA has unified sports. Eventually, hundreds of schools will be competing."

The state's Special Olympics chapter was able to partner with SRU because it had the manpower to run the IUS there. Normally the international organization sends in its own people to support the IUS in schools, which is growing nationally, Fagan said.

"We've been working close with Special Olympics for 20 years," she added. "IUS is a PIAA-sanctioned sport. It's not just a feel-good thing."

There were 24 volunteer students in the APA's master's and minor program who ran the league this season, Fagan said.

Grove City had 16 high school students who were broken up into two teams of eight players: Grove City Black and Grove City Gold, Fagan said.

Three other schools had the same setup and the remaining four schools had enough kids for one team of eight students, she noted. "So there were 12 teams competing."

Of Grove City's, the Black team took first prize, Connelly said. They were competing against New Castle at the tournament, as the season's eliminations brought the games down to two schools, she added.

Grove City's other team, Team Gold, consists of Kiara Caramanno, Doug Shreffler, Gavin Marlowe, Autumn Williams, Blair Steele, Dustin McFadden, Katelyn Harris and Dylan Marlowe. The district wants all 16 players to go to states.

"If the others go, they will go as cheerleaders and fans. I think it's awesome. It's basically saying, 'We're all one team,'" Fagan said.

"The Grove City fans are wild. We love those kids," Director Heather Baker said.

"I talked to a father of a student in the program. He couldn't say enough of the program. It was beyond his wildest dreams how it affected their family and (his child)," said Paul Gubba, director.

Connelly said she'd "sell my car" to get the players to the tournament.

However, Superintendent Jeff Finch recommending the district foot the bill. He said it would cost the district just over $4,500 for every student to attend, including the costs for a coach bus, meals and lodging for March 23 and 24.

The board is set to vote on the request at the upcoming Monday meeting.

The Grove City team will be competing with the winners of all the other leagues in the state, Fagan said.

"They said states was possible, but I didn't anticipate an end result," Connelly said, "although they're a very deserving group of individuals."

Grove City and Slippery Rock will start an IUS track and field program April 4, which also began last year with four schools but is simplifying while the APA group fine-tunes it, Fagan noted.

The IUS program was kicked off last year with a soccer week in the fall; this year it had a soccer day, she added.

The APA program received the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Unified Sports Center of Excellence award in November.

"It meant a lot to us. We've worked with Special Olympics for many years. We take it pretty serious around here, promoting equal sport activities for all people," Fagan said.

It was the first time the award was given to a school in the state, she added.

"What they hope to do is have other colleges in PA do what SRU is doing, to take charge in helping unified sports grow," she stated, beginning with West Chester University near Philadelphia.

Connelly gave a shout out to SRU coaches Kim Eisel, Justin Murphy, Blessie Bayanat, and Tyler Eccles and district coach Ella Netzel, who teaches students with multi disabilities.

"All of these athletes deserve the recognition for their hard work and dedication to their team mates," Connelly said. "If you see any of these athletes, congratulate them on a job well done and wish them 'good luck' in Hershey. Go Team Grove City!"


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