Bocce Brings the Inclusion to State High Sports


Last year’s roster posing for a team photo, including Elliot Sheenan, a senior and 2-year participant. “This year,” he said, “we are more determined than ever to make it to the state championship in Hershey.”

Ethan Jones

It’s no secret that State High is a home for sports. Students walk the halls in wrestling or basketball gear, and State football games are crowded with fans. However, this January, a whole new type of sport started up for its second season at State High: Unified Bocce. “Unified Sports is a program created by the Special Olympics organization in 2008 to bring together students with and without disabilities to train and compete for their school,” said Coach Clairen Percival, the person who brought Bocce to State High. 

“Two years ago, a friend of mine who is a Special Education teacher at Bald Eagle Area High School piloted Unified Bocce. It was a huge success, and Bald Eagle went on to win the 2019 State Championship last year. After hearing about the program through my friend, I knew this was something that I wanted to bring to State High,” said Percival, who is one of the main supporters and members of State High Bocce.

She talked about the impact that the Unified Bocce program has had on the kids involved, saying, “Having our first year under our belts, it was great to get feedback from those who were involved. It’s amazing to see some of the relationships blossom and students greeting each other in the hallway. In such a big school, having familiar faces in a sea of people is a big deal. It gives students the opportunity to be involved in the school community.”  

“Coach Percival is incredible,” senior and Unified Bocce participant Elliot Sheehan said. “She ran track and cross country at Penn State and she has a really competitive focus. She really helped us learn the game and get excited about it, especially when we get to have pizza and bake cookies.” Elliot has been a part of the program since its start last year, but his interests in helping his peers with disabilities started long before. “In middle school, I started to hang out with my diversely abled peers a lot. Almost every day, I went to the special needs room for AREA or the gym for adaptive PE. I have been a longtime volunteer with the Special Olympics, both at the Summer Games and Winter Games. When I got to high school, I really wanted to get involved again but my schedule was not compatible with Best Buddies, which was one of my only options. When I heard that Unified Bocce was coming to State High, I was so excited.” 

Sheehan mentioned the growing team spirit and hunger to win. “This is my second year on the team and we have competed against Bald Eagle and Bellefonte. We have had home and away matches, as well as a district championship tournament. Last year, our team did not have the best season (we only finished with one win) but we still had so much fun. This year, we are more determined than ever to make it to the state championship in Hershey.” Their first game of the season is on the 30th, against Bellefonte, where they’re sure to carry on this winning spirit, with the help of supporters and mentors like Coach Percival. With Bocce on the rise, State High has become not just a home for sports, but for all.