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Locals compete in unified bocce state championship

The Spirit - 3/14/2017

For some fans, the opening act of the PIAA state basketball tournament will be far more exciting than the roundball competition.

Teams from Strath Haven and Sun Valley high schools will represent

Delaware County in the Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) Interscholastic Unified Sports (IUS) indoor bocce state championship.

The squads were the winners of the local event held March 1 at Marple Newtown High School and will be among the eight teams competing in the finals preceding the March 24 basketball tourney at the Giant Center in Hershey.

"Often when our athletes compete it is their families who are rooting for them," said IUS senior advisor Mike Bovino. "Here the teams are part of their school communities ? the Marple Newtown cheerleaders are in the stands ? and it is very impactful."

Started in 1989, IUS joins an equal number of students with and without intellectual disabilities. Although they may see one another during the day, they do not necessarily have the chance to connect, and the associations serve to foster social inclusion and friendships, promote respect and acceptance and enhance self-esteem.

Bocce was added to the IUS mix in a selection of Philadelphia schools in 2011, expanding to the suburbs three years later when the Upper Darby team was formed. The roster now also includes

Chester, Haverford, Interboro, Marple Newtown, Penncrest, Penn Wood, Springfield, Strath Haven and Sun Valley. The state has 48

teams and SOPA works with the schools to provide funding, technical support and resources such as uniforms and equipment.

The most popular game in the world after soccer, bocce begins with a team member tossing the pallino, or small white ball, then rolling his or her first ball as close to it as possible. The object is for one side to get as many of its four orbs closer to the pallino than the opposing team's closest sphere. As the game is played on hardwood floors rather than grass, the balls are gel-filled as opposed to hard plastic.

Matches are 30 minutes or whichever team reaches 16 points.

"I had to introduce bocce to the school, because a number of the students were unfamiliar with the game," said Chester coach Andrew Reiss, whose team was competing in its first tournament. "It is the perfect sport, because you don't need to be a super athlete, and it teaches precision and determination."

Fans of the Haverford High School team waved signs in the school's red and gold, with members cheering one another during their rest periods. Keven Collins and his peer buddy partner, senior Dylan Resnick, led the chant.

"Bocce is fun and I'm good at it," said Collins.

"I like spending time with Dylan."

The experience is equally enjoyable for Resnick.

"We go bowling, play bocce and connect every day," he said. "We have a great time and learn from one another."

Strath Haven will be represented by Seamus Abel, Nic Arango, Tiara Brisbane, Kiera Caldwell, Morgan Crain, Will Huestis, Joe Shiiba and Chloe Zarko with coach Sarah Holt. The Sun Valley squad is composed of Vision Anyiam, Andrew Clausen, Taron Harris, Avery Louise, Marissa Massini, Chris Siekierski, Joseph Tumolo and Vincent Tumolo with coaches Lauren Herbert, Pat Malorgio and Michael McCormick.

IUS is part of a three-prong effort, including youth leadership and whole school engagement, with the goal of changing the building climate, said SOPA President and CEO Matt Aaron.

If the noise in the Marple Newtown gym was any indication, the program is fulfilling its mission.

"The stands are full ? all the students are responding to this," he said. "It is a school-wide effort."


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