NEW GAME IN TOWN: BEA becomes first school district to have PIAA-sponsored unified bocce

Pictured after their Unified Bocce championship win against Moshannon Valley are, left to right, back row: Erica Milliron, Special Education Teacher and Coach Jeff Miles, BEA Superintendent Dylan Zink, Blaine Egan, Brooke Hall, Thomas Shaheen, Jordan Bonsell, Nick Zink, Zach Nancarvis and Jack Tobias, Director of Secondary Education and High School Principal. Front Row: Connor Roberts, Chelsea Butterworth, Fay Shaheen, Emily Gardner and Melissa Butterworth, Director of Special Education. Missing from picture is team member, Julia Thompson. (Photo Provided)

WINGATE — Bald Eagle Area is the first school district in Centre County to offer a PIAA-Sponsored unified athletic program–Bocce.

Erica Milliron, BEA Special Education Teacher and Bocce team coach, says, “The point of a unified sport is to join together students with and without disabilities, and have them play as equal partners in a competitive setting.”

Special Olympics PA and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association have implemented two unified sports in schools across the Commonwealth of PA: bocce and track and field. Million says that due to BEA’s long-standing partnership with Special Olympics PA and the Special Olympics floor hockey tournament, which the Bald Eagle High School has hosted since 1999, BEA was the first Centre County school that Special Olympics approached to start a unified program.

The BEA Unified Bocce program, consisting of two teams, a Blue Team and a Gold Team, completed a six-week trial phase this school year. The basic principle of Bocce, an Italian game of skill and strategy, is to roll a bocce ball closest to the target ball, which is called a palina. According to the Special Olympics website, bocce is the third WINGATE — Bald Eagle Area is the first school district in Centre County to offer a PIAA-Sponsored unified athletic program–Bocce.

Erica Milliron, BEA Special Education Teacher and Bocce team coach, says, “The point of a unified sport is to join together students with and without disabilities, and have them play as equal partners in a competitive setting.”

Special Olympics PA and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association have implemented two unified sports in schools across the Commonwealth of PA: bocce and track and field. Million says that due to BEA’s long-standing partnership with Special Olympics PA and the Special Olympics floor hockey tournament, which the Bald Eagle High School has hosted since 1999, BEA was the first Centre County school that Special Olympics approached to start a unified program.

The BEA Unified Bocce program, consisting of two teams, a Blue Team and a Gold Team, completed a six-week trial phase this school year. The basic principle of Bocce, an Italian game of skill and strategy, is to roll a bocce ball closest to the target ball, which is called a palina. According to the Special Olympics website, bocce is the third most participated sport in the world.

Most of the students on the BEA teams had never played bocce before.

Yet on May 23, 2018, just a week before the end of school, the BEA Unified Bocce team members earned gold medals in a captivating win at the Bald Eagle Area High School gymnasium. The BEA teams took Moshannon Valley into a one-frame overtime match to break the tie, and the home crowd was electric with loud cheers and homemade signs.

Bald Eagle Area hopes to continue the Unified Bocce program next year as a winter sport.

Milliron says, “This year our students made new friends, laughed a lot, learned new skills, and created their own school family. It was a great experience, and one we look forward to continuing next year.”

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