More than just a sport: the petanque league offers opportunities


The Unified Indoor Bocce team from Lower Dauphin High School won Feb. 11 against the East Pennsboro team in East Pennsboro. It was the last game of the season, which started at the end of January. It was LD’s first victory.

So what’s the problem ?

“We’re the only team that’s brand new,” Megan Etter said. “We started our first training on January 1.”

Etter, a PE teacher, and Monica Hockenbrock, a Life Skills teacher, are the team coaches.

Etter, whose previous exposure to bocce was limited to playing lawn bocce as a child and as a physical education class activity, was more knowledgeable about the sport than others. She heard about Unified Indoor Bocce from the East Pennsboro coach, who is in her second year of the program.

Unified Bocce is a partnership between PIAA, Special Olympics, and the State Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education.

Kaiden Redcay. Photo: Jim Hazen

The goal is to provide students with and without special needs the opportunity to participate in a competitive environment that promotes social connectedness, camaraderie, and physical activity. The teams are made up of students with intellectual disabilities, called “athletes”, and students in regular education, called “partners”.

“I went to a game last winter in East Pennsboro and came home thinking it was for our school,” she said.

“Special Olympics is looking to expand the program. Although funded by the school district, Special Olympics provides the field, uniforms and practice plans, she said. “Other teams have been helpful in sharing what has worked for them. Our district has been tremendous in their support. It’s a whole-school commitment.”

Athletes from other LD teams, parents, staff and students come to games to cheer on even the smallest victories.

Angela Orwan. Photo: Jim Hazen

The court is regulation size, constructed with PVC pipes and designed for installation on gymnasium floors. The ball and pallina are soft unlike traditional bocce balls, which can be made of wood, metal, fired clay or various types of plastic.

The LD team is made up of eight students, four athletes – Kaiden Redcay, Bryan Desmond,

Ryan Bastian and Angela Orwan – and four partners – Catherine Walter, Jenna Spencer, Grace Walter and Mikayla Spangenberg, who play with the athletes, helping out when needed.

Spangenberg, a lacrosse player who says she’s been in the sport all her life, said she wasn’t sure when asked to be a partner, but was all for it when she asked. heard who his teammates would be.

“I didn’t know it was with special education,” she said. “I’m in Best Buddies with Special Olympics. It’s cool to be part of their first experience. They are very excited about their uniforms.

“It was a challenge” Hockenbrock said: “Trying to figure out the rules and the strategies. It can be emotional; from the motivational aspect, you need a lot of patience.

“You can’t coach from the sidelines,” Etter said with a smile.

“Dealing with a loss – sometimes they don’t get it,” Hockenbrock said. “These children are not used to staying two hours after school for a practice or a match. They get tired.

Earlier in the season, fans watched the athletes’ individual styles, which weren’t necessarily productive like Redcay’s carefully considered ball movement before dropping it in a languid roll that only occasionally made it far enough to be a threat. On the other hand, Ryan could often be counted on for a fiery outburst that jumped the bounds of the field; as Orwan’s energy waned, his focus also waned, resulting in balls thrown nonchalantly sometimes in the direction of the pallina, sometimes not. Bryan lined up his ball with his partner who stood behind the pallina, accommodation for his impaired vision. The results were mixed, but one thing he could count on afterwards was exuberant applause and a cheerful rendition of “ff you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”.

However, practice and encouragement paid off on the 11th.

“They’ve improved so much,” Etter said after their win. “There were no fouls, no bad balls. The girls were a big help in guiding the strategy.

“It was a joy to see Ryan in the first round against East Pennsboro,” Spangenberg said. “He had the ball. I told him where to stand and he did it perfectly. Everyone was so excited. The parents were smiling and he was so happy.

“Seeing them finally be able to compete, seeing them work together, they learn more lessons than sports. They learn how to win, how to lose,” Etter said. “They are greeted in the hallways with high fives by fellow students and athletes.”

The team will compete in the Regional Championships at Northern High School in Dillsburg and the winners will advance to the State Championship at the PIAA Basketball Finals in March.

“It’s more than just a sport,” Spangenberg said


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