To many QO students, Allied Bocce is simply a sport you pass over or have never even heard of. However, to a select few, it is their only chance to play on a team sport in high school. Bocce is an allied sport, which means that it is designed for both students with disabilities and students without disabilities to be able to play it.
Bocce is a fairly simple game. It starts out by the winning team of a coin flip rolling a ball called the pallino down a 60-foot mat. The pallino will end up between the 30-foot mark and the 50-foot mark. Then, each team will have four chances to get their ball closer to the pallino than the other team.
It’s the simplicity of the sport that allows it to be accessible. MCPS’s official rules allow for slight alterations to accommodate for disabilities, such as adjusting foul lines for players that need to use a ramp to throw the ball. The rules also require two of the four competing players to be student athletes with disabilities.
Bocce is part of the corollary sports program that MCPS created in adherence to a 2008 law, which mandates Maryland schools must give students with disabilities an opportunity to participate in sports. While allied softball is offered in the spring and team handball is offered in the fall, bocce is the most common corollary sport offered at MCPS schools, which is why many middle school special education teachers recommend their students play bocce in high school.
“Before I came to QO, I taught LFI, which means Learning for Independence, and the students go for a certification instead of a diploma, and [bocce] was always a sport we pushed them to do once,” said QO bocce coach Julie Lyst.
Teachers aren’t the only ones who see the benefits of having students with disabilities play sports.
“Bocce improved not only Crush’s mood but the mood of our entire household. The teamwork he learned was immensely valuable and it came home to us as well,” said Tom Rowse, the father of Gregory “Crush” Rowse, a former bocce player at Wootton High School with autism.
However, it’s not just students with disabilities that benefit from being part of a team with both disabiles and non-disabled students, also known as GenED students.
“In an IEP [Individualized Education Plan], it always talks about the least restrictive environment. It’s the most important thing, so it’s always pushed for this student with a disability . . . to learn how to do this and learn how to do that,” said Lyst. “I think it is equally important for GenEd students to be in classes or work with students with disabilities because they’re everyday kids: they’re everyday people that you're going to see in your community . . . and to not know how to properly interact with them, I think that puts GenEd students and whoever else at a disadvantage.”