Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) hosted the bocce ball section of the Arizona special olympics at the Southern and Dobson campus on Saturday, Oct. 5. Over 100 athletes signed up to compete in this sporting competition which empowers Arizonans with disabilities.
The mood was jovial. Volunteers and supporters alike cheered along the sidelines as each athlete rolled their ball. Most competed in single competitions or competitions against one other opponent. Along with the tournament, athletes were also treated to refreshments, shout outs from a nearby emcee and a mariachi band at the end of the tournament.
Kelly White was awarded for her performance in the competition. Originally from Florence, she won twice during the competition and hosted two medals across her neck during the closing ceremonies. White said she “yes” would compete again in future SOAZ competitions.
According to their website SOAZ’s goal is to “empower the over 180,000 Arizonans with intellectual disabilities to be healthy, productive and respected members of society through SOAZ’s year-round sports training, competitions and support program.”
Nicholas Stalloch, Four Peaks area director for SOAZ, said the bocce ball tournament is one of several sport-specific competitions held across the East Valley.
“We have a whole bunch of sports that they compete in called ‘area competitions.’ So this is our bocce area competition. They come here, they qualify, they get good scores, then they take it to our state competitions in October which will be in Peoria, Goodyear,“ Stalloch explained.
Bocce ball is a sport with a long history dating back to the Roman Empire. The game is played outdoors using a lane much like a modern bowling match. Teams roll wooden or plastic balls towards a designated area within the lane and the closer you get the more points you score. Formally developed in modern day Italy, bocce ball is now revered throughout the world as a fun and easy to play backyard competition.
The operation relies on the consistency of community and student volunteers engagement.
“We have a lot of really good volunteers out here making this a very, very smooth operation,” Stalloch said.
One of those volunteers was Ally Gherkins. A student from Mesa Community College, Gherkins remarked that the competition was going “really smooth.”
“I’m in a leadership class right now and we had to do a 20 hour project. So my leadership endeavour was helping with this,” Gherkins continued. “I’ve been here since about 6:00AM setting up everything and we haven’t really had any issues at all. It’s been really fun.”