Feb. 7, 2022
Upper St. Clair bocce team off to a great start
This year marks the inaugural season for the Upper St. Clair High School Interscholastic Unified Indoor Bocce team. The co-ed team, partially funded and sponsored by Special Olympics PA, is comprised of an equal number of students with and without disabilities.
The team is coached by Anne Wagner, a teacher’s aide at Streams Elementary, and Katelyn Nassar, who previously coached a similar team at Mt. Lebanon High School. Although it is not a WPIAL sport, the bocce team is managed by Upper St. Clair’s athletic department. All participants must complete PIAA paperwork and are recognized in the same manner as other Upper St. Clair club sports.
“The Unified Sports concept is different from many that people are familiar with. It is not a ‘buddy’ or ‘mentoring’ program. All participants train and compete as equal teammates,” Mrs. Wagner said. “One of the most important principles of Unified Sports is meaningful involvement and that applies to all of the athletes. Each one is learning, working and growing through his or her experiences at bocce. Through this model, the kids become real friends and true teammates.”
The bocce team is comprised of 16 players. Eight players compete during each match, while the other eight fulfill other game roles.
The response from the school community has been overwhelmingly positive, which Mrs. Wagner attributes to the school’s established climate of inclusion. Numerous student groups including the football team, boys and girls basketball teams, varsity and junior varsity cheerleaders as well as staff members, families and friends filled the stands for the team’s first home match against Moon Area High School.
“We have had a really positive response,” Mrs. Wagner said. “We had a great group of fans in the stands at our home match, which was amazing!”
Serving as officials for the home match were Upper St. Clair High School’s assistant principals, Dr. Dan Beck and Ms. Cara Senger.
“The best part for us was seeing the support from our student body for this event,” Ms. Senger said. “To see the cheerleaders, boys and girls basketball players, football players, and other USC students there to cheer on all of our participants was special and provided an amazing environment as the two teams competed.”
The team practices two times each week in the high school cafeteria. Upper St. Clair’s schedule included four matches:
- Tuesday, Jan. 25 vs. Moon
- Tuesday, Feb. 1 at Mt. Lebanon
- Thursday, Feb. 3 at South Park
- Tuesday, Feb. 15 at Montour
The Unified Indoor Bocce season runs from December through February. As with varsity athletics, teams will compete in post-season playoffs. Two Allegheny County teams will advance to the state-level competition, which will be held in late March in Hershey.
The idea of creating a bocce program at Upper St. Clair High School was initially suggested to Mrs. Amy Pfender, assistant superintendent, in 2019 during a parent meeting. After researching, connecting with officials from the Special Olympics, program planning, delays due to COVID-19, and a comprehensive review and approval process from Special Olympics PA, the bocce team was launched.
“The idea of a bocce team was shepherded by Mrs. Pfender, who brought together a group of individuals from the athletic department, student support services department and the high school's administrative team for initial planning,” Dr. Timothy Wagner, high school principal, said. “One of Mrs. Pfender's primary goals was to continue to develop and offer programs in Upper St. Clair that promote an inclusive school environment.”
Upper St. Clair High School has numerous programs in place that promote a culture of inclusion including SHOP@USC, Partners in PE, the Best Buddies club, as well as a strong partnership with the Miracle League of South Hills. The Interscholastic Unified Indoor Bocce team was a natural fit.
“As a district, we want to continue to grow best inclusionary practices for all students,” Mrs. Pfender said. “Competitive bocce is a way to provide another equal opportunity for students. With the support of high school administration, the athletic department, and wonderful coaches, bocce is now alive and successful in USC.”
There are 18 Unified Bocce teams throughout the greater Pittsburgh area. Participating schools include Avonworth, Baldwin, Carlynton, Deer Lakes, Elizabeth Forward, Fox Chapel Area, Franklin Regional, Hampton Area, Montour, Moon Area, Mt. Lebanon, Norwin, Pine-Richland, Shaler Area, South Park, Sto-Rox, Upper St. Clair and West Allegheny high schools.
To learn more about Interscholastic Unified Sports, visit https://specialolympicspa.org/interscholastic-unified-sports.