Genuine love and competition filled State College High School’s North Gym on Tuesday for the regional championship of unified bocce, which was held for the second time in Centre County.
The Bald Eagle Blue team captured its second straight regional title, while State College Maroon placed second. Rounding out the field of competitors was State College Gray, third; Bald Eagle Gold, fourth; Bellefonte White, fifth; and Bellefonte Red, sixth.
The schools partnered with the state Special Olympics organization in 2019 to create teams broken down into two, eight-person squads, each containing student-athletes with and without disabilities.
“Everybody gets along and we’ve gotten so close,” said State College High School senior Garrett Callenberger. “I think that’s what kind of stood out to everybody. Like we’ll see each other in school and we’ll give each other a big high five or hugs and stuff.”
The bond that unified bocce has created between not only the student athletes, but the entire community is something that is truly genuine. The event has brought the three school communities together in a unique way through a shared respect and love for one another.
Student-athletes from each school were more than excited to compete for the chance to go to Hershey for the state championship on March 18 and 19. And, for the second straight year, Bald Eagle is heading to Hershey and will look to defend its state title of a year ago.
For the student athletes from State College, hosting the district championship was fun, but also nerve racking.
“I think it’s cool to have everyone’s families kind of in a central location where everybody’s parents and other people who want to come watch can come out and just have fun,” said Callenberger.
State College’s Niko Elliott prepares to release a shot during the regional unified bocce championships held March 3. State High finished the competition in second place. Photo by Heather Weikel | For the Gazette
“I thought tonight was a great example of many districts coming together to create opportunities for our students. We worked closely with our coaches, our colleagues and administrators from Bellefonte and BEA, and I think that the students really enjoyed the chance to compete together,” said Loren Crispell, assistant director of athletics at State High. “There are always things we’d like to improve upon and change from one event to the next, but the bottom line we all pursue is creating opportunities for our students.”
Crispell said the State College program is still in relative infancy compared to the second-year teams of Bald Eagle and Bellefonte, but noted it was growing “quickly.”
Crispell said unified bocce offers all of the best parts of what being part of a team can provide for everyone.
“It offers all of the belonging, the range of emotions that competition provides, the opportunities to achieve at high levels, the opportunities to experience and develop leadership,” Crispell said. “Most of all, it places life-changing relationships in the lives of our students, and the chance to be part of something bigger than yourself cannot be replicated in many other arenas. You can see it in the way our team interacts with each other. There’s love, there’s humor, there’s enjoyment, there’s elation and there’s a shared experience of achievement. I’m not sure anything can deliver that quite like being part of a team.”
Crispell credits the growing success of bocce in Centre County to the three local athletic directors in SC’s Chris Weakland, BEA’s Doug Dyke and Bellefonte’s Deb Moore. He said the support provided by these three individuals represent a strong thirst and desire for growth, as well as for more opportunities.
The future is bright.
“I think we want to assess and reflect on the growth that was made this season and better understand where we can improve,” Crispell said.
“We want to be just a little bit better in all areas every day, and if we can do that, we’ll constantly be improving the experience for our students, whether it’s for bocce, or any other sport.”
At the end of the day, winning isn’t everything for these student athletes. The bonds and relationships they have created with one another is something truly special and is hard to find anywhere else.
“I think there’s a really big sense of community within the team, like no matter what, we can always pick each other up from our games and motivate one another,” said SC student athlete Hope Behringer.
For the second straight year, the Bald Eagle Area unified bocce team captured regional gold with victories over State College and Bellefonte teams on March 3 at State High. Photo by Heather Weikel | For the Gazette