Cherokee County’s Special Olympics bocce team is excited for the tournament this week. Photo by CALLUM OSBORNE

SCOUTING AROUND: Bocce grows as sport for Special Olympians

    In 2006, Angel Dockery was one of the athletes to compete at the first Special Olympics U.S.A. National Games in Iowa, representing North Carolina in bocce. The sport has grown so much since then that she got to share her love of bocce with 25 other local athletes this season.
    “I’m very happy because I get to be with my friends, with my teammates,” she said.
    Several athletes play other sports but eventually joined the bocce team. For example, Laura Hays has competed in both track and field plus aquatics over the years, and she started playing bocce to have a fall sport.
    “And we get to socialize,” Hays said.
    Bocce is lawn bowling, in which teams of two or four try to roll their ball closest to the target ball. There is sometimes frustration, but that is battled by enthusiastic encouragement from teammates. The balls are lightweight, and there is even a court with an open end at Konehete Park so a person using a wheelchair can access it to play.
    “I actually think this is a sport anyone can do,” said Susanne Parker, coordinator of Cherokee County’s Special Olympics. “I think that’s the fun part about it – all abilities can do it.”
    While she and Brad Penland are the bocce coaches (Ruby Jones also is in the process of becoming a coach), several parents assist with coaching duties.
    “It’s a very humbling experience when you’re out with these kids,” Teresa Allison said after congratulating her daughter, Claire.
    Cherokee County has had bocce since 2001, and Parker said it has grown in popularity every year. It’s the county’s only fall sport for the Special Olympics.
    The state’s fall tournament is this weekend, but because of the county’s size Cherokee only was allowed to send a team of two to the event. That didn’t seem fair to all the great athletes she had, so Parker decided Cherokee County would have its own tournament instead to coincide with their usual celebration in the fall.
    The bocce tournament will be at 4 p.m. Thursday at Konehete Park in Murphy. Everyone is invited to attend and watch the games.
    For details about Special Olympics, call Parker at Peachtree Elementary School at 837-2479.

Students thrive on special trip
    Rachel Payne, an exceptional children’s teacher, knew the long bus ride to Atlanta was worth it as soon as her students entered Georgia Aquarium last week.
    “At least three of my students yelled, ‘This is the best day of my life!’ “ she said.
    Seven Murphy Middle School students in Payne’s class got to go on the
trip that not only enriched their studies on ocean animals, but enriched their lives.
    “There were several students who were really nervous about going so far away without their parents because this was out of their comfort zone, but they now have a sense of independence that wasn’t there before,” Payne said.
    Throughout the day, they were able to identify many of the ocean animals they already learned about. The trip also made them excited to learn about animals they hadn’t gotten to yet, like penguins and whale sharks, she said.
    All students also got the chance to touch starfish, sea urchins, anemones, sting rays and small sharks. One student, Jordan Chastain, was nervous about touching the sea urchin, but did when he learned it wasn’t going to hurt him. After getting to touch the animals, the students wanted to go back for another opportunity.
    “The energy level was high all day,” Payne said. “These students wanted to see everything possible as many times as possible. They couldn’t get enough of this real-life lesson.”
    The trip was originally for her students only, but the students asked if their eighth-grade buddies – students who volunteer in the exceptional children classroom each day – could come along. Five did.
    “It was beneficial for everyone involved,” Payne said. “My students love to learn and have so much to offer others as well.”
    There was no special funding or pricing for the trip, but Payne said she is always looking for help to enrich her students’ education and lives.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message at 837-5122.