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Bethel Park High School is adding its first new sport in years – coed Unified Indoor Bocce.

In coed Unified Indoor Bocce, teams compete by rolling underhand a rubber bocce ball on 60-by-12 feet, PVC courts in hopes of getting closer to the jack (a smaller ball that serves as a target) than their opponent.

It is part of the Unified Sports program of the Special Olympics, which promotes social inclusion through shared training and competition for people with and without intellectual disabilities.

Mike Bovino, senior adviser for Special Olympics Pennsylvania, said the waiting list to join the fully inclusive Special Olympics PA Unified Champion Schools (UCS) program is “rather lengthy and growing.” Special Olympics of Pennsylvania is working with 91 schools in 12 counties, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to provide competition for indoor bocce, track and field and soccer.

Joseph Villani, Bethel Park principal, said this year’s team was actually three years in the making.

“We have been committed to adding this opportunity for our exceptional students as far back as 2019, when our athletic director (Dan) Sloan first put Bethel Park High School on the waiting list for Allegheny County schools,” he said. “Fortunately, additional post-pandemic funding has allowed the UCS to expand its membership, permitting Bethel Park to join the Unified Indoor Bocce League.”

Bethel Park will field two teams of eight boys and girls and welcomes all students in grades 9-12 with intellectual and developmental disabilities (including autism) and who are taking classes at Bethel Park High School.

UCS oversees the program and helps fund it by paying for team uniforms, court equipment and all training for coaches and sponsors. UCS brings students together with intellectual and developmental disabilities on Interscholastic Unified Sports teams.

The members represent their school like any other PIAA sports team, practicing and competing together as equal peers, and earning varsity letters.

“We have long been dedicated to expanding opportunities for our exceptional students in academics and work-based learning, and we are very excited to offer them this new athletic opportunity as well,” Villani said. “We cannot wait to cheer our coed Indoor Unified Bocce student athletes this winter.”

Bethel Park’s bocce team will begin practicing in November and will compete in games throughout January and February. The schedule has not been released yet, but it will include at least one home match.

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