On a Roll

New to NA sports, the Unified Bocce Team offers members a unique opportunity to compete for a PIAA title.


Kate Gilliland

After school on Wednesday in the NASH cafeteria, Bocce Team member Connor Ross shartpens his aim with the help of Coach Rachel Tengowski.

Kate Gilliland, Opinions Editor

Among the most casual of sports, bocce is often a sideline event at backyard barbecues and family picnics. If it involves any real competition (and it probably does not), it’s between you and your overly competitive cousin.

But at NASH this winter, the all-new Unified Bocce Team, which will compete indoors, is aiming to lift the sport’s status.

“Our first game is an away match on December 16th against Avonworth,” said Ms. Melinda Beck, who coaches the team alongside fellow Special Education Department members Rachel Tengowski, Kami Ritter and Josie Carlton. “Then we have a home match [at NAI] against North Hills and Shaler and then another away match against Deer Lake. Hopefully, we make it to playoffs and states!”

Beck speaks of the team with the same conviction that you would expect to hear from a football coach, but her attitude should come as no surprise.  Unified Bocce is a PIAA sport, conducted within guidelines established by the Special Olympics Interscholastic Unified Sports program.

“We were on the waitlist for years and they just had a huge growth this year, maybe like 50 more schools across the state,” Beck explained. “We have been trying to do it for years and this year we were finally allowed to do it.”

Unified sports allow students with and without disabilities to participate and compete against other schools.

“I think it is a great opportunity for an inclusive environment,” Beck said. “Outside of Special Olympics, our students don’t always get to take part in athletics at this level, because it is so competitive with tryouts and everything, so this gives them that opportunity.”

The NA team is made up of two co-ed squads of eight, and members are eager to get the season underway.

“I wanted to try out because it sounded so fun,” senior Syler Corona said.

For some students on the team, this is their first time trying out for a school sport.

I’ve never played bocce, except for gym class, so it’s really exciting to be playing as a team.

— Aidan Mulkearns, NASH senior

“Trying out for the first time was cool. I’ve never played bocce, except for gym class, so it’s really exciting to be playing as a team,” senior Aidan Mulkearns said.

Joining a sports team also presents the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.

“I’m finally looking forward to playing a sport for NA, which I’ve never done at all,” senior Gianna Capizzi said. “I look forward to making and maintaining strong friendships.”

NASH junior Anne Melle appreciates the camaraderie that the Bocce Team has already formed, even though they have only held practices thus far.

“I think it’s really fun,” she said. “All the kids are great and we all get along well. I definitely think it will be interesting and a good learning experience for everyone.”

With their first away match a little over a week away, the team looks poised to put just the right amount of finesse on their inaugural season.

“Come cheer us on at NAI on January 18 and February 7 at 3:00!” Beck said.