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Medals are least important thing in unified bocce

February 24, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • South Hagerstown's Michaela Brewer follows through on a shot during the Maryland Unified Indoor Bocce State High School Invitational at Hagerstown Community College.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — In most sports, success is measured by the color of your medal or ribbon.

Gold, silver and bronze are considered precious while blue is true for top awards. Pink is even acceptable in some occasions.

The world could have been color blind on Friday during the Unified Indoor Bocce State High School Invitational at Hagerstown Community College.

In fact, the only hue that mattered was the pearly white of smiles.

The treasures of winning aren’t any more valuable than the prize of participating in these games.

Indoor bocce ball is the most popular of the three unified sports seasons offered by Maryland schools, in conjunction with Maryland Special Olympics. Last year, Maryland because the first state to require unified programs — varsity sports that allowed special needs students to participate with the help of able-bodied athletes and classmates.

“(The state invitational) has grown this year,” said Mike Bovino, the chief development officer for Maryland Special Olympics. “We are now in nine school systems and had 22 more schools participate this year.”

Washington County has all seven public schools fielding unified sports teams. They make up a small piece of the 63 schools now involved in the program.

“This is a state event so we only allow each school to bring one team here,” Bovino said. “Some of these schools have enough players for two teams.

“The number of schools haven’t as grown as much as the number of players participating. There are 950 players in the program now and about 475 are special needs athletes. That’s a jump of about 300 from last year.”

Maryland also offers unified track and tennis programs in the spring and fall seasons, but bocce ball is king.

Bocce ball — also known as lawn bowling — is scored similar to horseshoes and curling. The game starts with the tossing of a pallino, a marker ball. Each team has four chances to get closest to the pallino to score points.

Each ball a team gets between the pallino and their opponent’s closest shot results in a point.

In the unified game, four teammates — two special needs and two helpers — take turns trying to score.

The winning is fun, but the participating means a whole lot more.

“The practices are so full of joy,” said Boonsboro coach Phil Aversa, whose Warriors won the Division IV gold medal. “Every night I head home from practice, I leave with a smile. To see them all come together and work is terrific.”

On Friday, smiles were flashed everywhere as athletes from 31 schools — including five from Washington County — came for the second half of the unified sports divided state tournament. The other 32 schools, including Clear Spring and Hancock, competed on Tuesday in Rockville, Md.

The teams were divided into four divisions, all playing for their own set of medals and ribbons. The double-elimination tournaments were held on 12 courts constructed out of fiberglass plumbing pipes on HCC’s basketball courts.

The competition was far more tense and competitive in this second event as more teams started to play angles and strategy to get higher scores.

Yet, there were giggles, cheers and cheesy smiles everywhere after every shot — good or bad — that have been the signature of this sporting events. HCC’s athletic complex became a haven for fist bumps, high fives and NFL inspired handshakes.

The event had the feel of the Olympics as the athletes were greeted with opening ceremonies and each received their awards on a team podium as each name was announced with the Olympic theme played in the background.

Fans had flags and banners supporting their favorites.

All the pomp and circumstance paled to the reaction of the athletes.

There was the unrehearsed yelp of joy by Zach Getridge that was punctuated with a pair of thumbs pointing upward after Boonsboro claimed its title.

And then there was North Hagerstown’s Marcus Allen, who couldn’t keep in the pride he felt after receiving a pink ribbon for seventh place.

“I got this on my first try,” Allen said, looking down at the ribbon dangled across his chest. “I was just trying hard and having fun, and I got the medal.”

After the ribbon was placed around his neck, Allen picked it up looked at it and kissed it. Then he pointed to the sky.

“That was for my Uncle Lester,” Allen said. “He died a long time ago, but I knew he would be proud because he never gave up on me. I know he was up there saying, ‘Good job.’”

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