Return to Headlines


The smiling faces and joking aside, the co-ed teams took their places on both ends of the bocce court. The 4 p.m. competition was about to begin. However, as the half-hour matches went on, the crowd was cheering for both sides – Wash High and Canon-McMillan. The players rooted for each other and applauded their efforts. There was a competition there, but yet, it was a fun time for the players who enjoyed being part of a team. Both schools were truly Unified Champion Schools!

Although the western PA area is popular for many other sports like football, basketball, baseball, and wrestling, a new sport may be gaining popularity over the next few years – bocce. “The 2023-24 school year is the first year Washington participated in the Unified Sports League, bringing players with special needs together with other high school peers to form teams to play sports. For this season, it’s Unified Bocce. Unified Sports, part of Special Olympics, has seen success with the program and is expanding it throughout the region. The western region of PA has 66 schools participating in its Unified Indoor Bocce leagues and it is gaining popularity each year.” said Stephanie Taylor of Special Olympics, adding “It is also a sanctioned sport of the PIAA.”

Camilla Justice, Washington’s Director of Special Education, is thrilled with how the teens have taken to the game. “We have a great group of students from freshmen to seniors, working together on the team. They have fun at practices, learn different strategies on winning, and get to play it out against another school’s team. The goal was exactly what Unified Sports website’s mission says, ‘to promote inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences with one simple principle in mind: training together and playing together by providing opportunities for students with and without disabilities to participate in sports meaningfully and as equal peers.’”

Washington School District will continue to build on their inclusive practices in extra-curricular activities inside and outside of the school environment. Ms. Justice shares, “After seeing the success of the program this season, which isn’t over just yet, we will continue to work with Unified Sports to bring more access to inclusion for our students. Washington really is breaking barriers for inclusion and access for all students. I couldn’t be prouder of this team and what they are accomplishing! Way to go Prexies!”

Learning to work together on the Washington Unified Bocce team is taught by Coach Ron Todd, a Special Education teacher in the Junior High for the past 5 years. “This league allows the kids to play together in a real team effort against other schools. It has given everyone involved a great learning experience to build their confidence and self-esteem, all while having fun.”

Coach Todd explained how the Unified Indoor Bocce game works. A small, table tennis-like ball, or Pallina, is thrown by one of the players onto the playing court. Once the Pallina stops in the playing area, the goal is for the players to throw, or roll, a larger gel-filled, heavier bocce ball down the court and try to get as close as possible to the Pallina. There are 4 red and 4 green bocce balls (one color per team) and the players continue taking turns until all have thrown or rolled their bocce balls. After all 8 are played, the team with the most bocce balls that are closest to the Pallina wins a point or maybe two. Then the Pallina is thrown again to start another round. What is different about each game is where the Pallina lands, and the players must adjust their throws or rolls accordingly. Some rounds, the Pallina is close – maybe 8 feet away, while another one could be further away at the end of the court. Each game is a series of matches for a half hour. Then there’s a break, and the teams re-group and play another half hour, for a total of an hour of playing time.

The final score of the Canon-McMillan v. Washington ended up with Wash High winning 14 to 1. Washington plays against Upper Saint Clair (the only Allegheny County school in our division), Trinity, Canon McMillan, and Peters Township school districts. Washington is currently 4-2 with one match to go against Trinity.

At the end of the games, the two teams line up and high-five each other’s members as they go down the line. There is a technical winner and loser, but after seeing how it all works with team members and their opponents cheering each other on to be the best they can be, there are definitely more winners than losers in this sport.

Posted: February 2024