Unified bocce ball is what is right in sports

January 30, 2011
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

I took a couple of minutes to stop and smell the roses on Saturday.

And I didn’t sneeze. In fact, it cleared my senses.

Actually, this is a nice way to say I went for some reprogramming or an attitude adjustment. It was better than any Happy Hour.

All it took was a 60-minute stay at the unified sports bocce ball match at North Hagerstown on Saturday — a quad-match that included teams from Williamsport, Clear Spring and Hancock.

For those who don’t know, the unified sports have been mandated by state law in public schools to give special-needs students an equal opportunity to compete in varsity high school athletics. Bocce ball is the winter activity, while track and field (spring) and tennis (fall) are yet to come.

The endeavor represents so much to these students. For me, it was more than they could imagine.

I live in this world where sports have gone haywire. Egotism overrides eagerness. The games aren’t as much fun as they used to be. High school sports are looked at as more of a resumé than an opportunity. Competing to improve has given way to a false sense of entitlement to play.

I got a day off from that on Saturday.

The sport pits teams of special-needs and able-bodied athletes in an indoor variation of lawn bowling. The simple act of rolling a ball is coated in purity.

You don’t have to know anything about the sport to have it wash over you like a refreshing spring breeze.

Bocce ball in Washington County schools is replacing Jersey Shore and Ugg boots as the latest trend.

There are very few places where those with special needs and the able-bodied have equal footing. The bocce ball court has become one.

Where else could you see the likes of North Hagerstown football player Zach Schreiber helping his special-needs teammate — and friend — Michael Vogel strategically plan his next shot?

North used the opportunity of this meet to the fullest, complete with cheerleaders. The Hubs celebrated Senior Day, recognizing all the senior athletes and their parents, which also was a first.

Every shot was celebrated — no matter which team took it — by every player, coach and the 100 or so fans in attendance. There were plenty of high-fives to go around. The red and blue lines of team colors were erased as everyone did well.

You could see it in the face of Williamsport’s Kyle Baker, whose face lit up after a particularly good shot during a match against Hancock. He half jumped in the air after striking away a Hancock ball and immediately got a high-five from a coach. He played it to the hilt, grabbing a hug from a female teammate.

You could see the pure joy of accomplishment as North’s Mark Keats pointed to the crowd after a good shot, or as Michael Barnhart clapped for the crowd that was applauding him.

But the topper may have come from Williamsport’s Codi Shoemaker. Shoemaker, a non-verbal student, got excited with a good shot he had for the Wildcats.

He didn’t need to say a word. His smile said it all.

Sports, at times, have become an ugly place, thanks to drugs, anger and an over-emphasis on winning. Never have so many athletes’ lives been changed, or coaches’ jobs lost, over what is supposed to be a game.

Games are meant to be fun.

The bocce ball kids made me understand that again. Stop by if you need a booster shot.

Ahhh, things are starting to feel rosy again.

Bob Parasiliti is a Herald-Mail sports writer. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by e-mail at

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