The adapted physical activity graduate students hosted the very first Interscholastic Unified Sports Bocce Tournament on Tuesday in the Morrow Field House.
The event consisted of four different high school teams from Slippery Rock, Grove City, Sharpsville and Hickory.
Cara Alvarez, adapted physical activity graduate student and project coordinator, said the whole point of the tournament was to foster inclusion between individuals with and without disabilities.
The event promotes these individuals to know that they can do these sports and be on a team just like anyone else can be, Alvarez said.
The reason the event was started was because a Sharpsville superintendent reached out to Slippery Rock stating he wanted more opportunities for his students with intellectual disabilities.
Adapted physical activity professor, Wendy Fagan runs the disability sports class in the graduate level classes, and teaches a lot about Special Olympics, Alvarez said.
Fagan reached out to the Special Olympics to start Slippery Rock’s college program and that is how the ball got rolling to creating the Interscholastic Unified Sports Tournaments.
The first sporting event was a pilot soccer program lasting two weeks between Slippery Rock High School and Sharpsville High School. The event was such a hit that they decided to continue the program and bring more high schools in.
After deciding they wanted to do more with the program, the graduate students started reaching out to members from Special Olympics Pennsylvania and also Special Olympics International in Washington D.C., Alvarez said.
After contacting many people and brainstorming ideas, the department came up with tournaments for spring, summer, fall and winter.
The spring semester tournament is bocce, which was what was played on Tuesday.
Bocce is a very verbal sport, Alvarez said.
Bocce is a game that is played with two teams going against each other. It starts out by flipping a coin to see who rolls the pallina ball first. The pallina ball is a small ball that is rolled down the lane or field. After the pallina ball is rolled, the object of the game is to get your ball closest to the pallina ball.
There is usually a green team and a red team, Alvarez said. There are four players on a team at a time and each player gets one roll.
After all the balls are rolled, if the green team has the two closest balls to the pallina, the green team is awarded two points, for example.
The reason why bocce works incredibly well is because it is a social sport, Alvarez said. Individuals with and without disabilities form friendships and bond by supporting each other throughout the game.
Kelsey Tanler, freshman athletic training major, said she thinks the event is beyond beneficial for the athletes and that they get to bond with people that don’t have disabilities, and they are not treated any differently.
The graduate students worked closely with Jennifer Tresp, coordinator for the Special Olympics, to construct the event. She helped them figure out how to go about the opening ceremony, award ceremony and how the event is usually run.
Graduate students in the program helped with the event by becoming coaches and helping the athletes.
The event took about a month to plan and work out. Erin McKenna, adapted physical activity graduate student and project coordinator, said getting the field house, making sure the high schools knew every detail and making sure all the grad students were going to be available took some time, along with the graduate students also going through training to be officials and coaches.
The event brought more than 200 audience members that clapped and cheered for the athletes throughout the tournament.
Olivia Bridges, freshman adapted physical activity minor, said the tournament seemed like a sporting event that everyone can go to and enjoy, which is incredibly valuable.
Alvarez said the adapted physical activity graduate students are trying to make Slippery Rock University a center of excellence with the Special Olympics.
The plan is to make people aware of what the University is doing and spread it to other colleges as well.
Being with the adapted physical activity department, there is always hands-on experience to becoming educated on how to help individuals with disabilities to lead better lives, McKenna said.
The department is hosting an Interscholastic Unified Sports Track and Field event on April 28 at the Mihalik Stadium at 4 p.m.
“We are encouraging everyone to come and spectate because we hope to grow these events and bring in more and more people each year,” Alvarez said.