Last month, 18 Massachusetts Association of Student Councils (MASC) schools descended upon Westborough High School for the 5th annual Special Olympics Massachusetts Unified Bocce Tournament. This is the first of two Unified Bocce events happening this school year through the MASC. The second will take place at Rockland High School on Sunday, January 8. This tournament included 18 schools, 11 that played in the Bocce Tournament and 7 that came as fans in the stands to cheer on all the participants. A Unified team is made up of high school students both with intellectual disabilities (athletes) and without intellectual disabilities (partners) working together. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. Below are a few words from those who took part in the tournament firsthand on how participating in this Unified event affected them.
A view from two Students
Willow Scappace, Greenfield High School
My trip with the Greenfield High School student council to the Special Olympics Unified bocce tournament was an experience in which I learned something about myself, others and had a really good time. My friend Jackson and I went to bocce for the first time this year; however, unlike Jackson who was playing, I was a “Fan in the Stand” supporting our team from Greenfield High School. I was really nervous that day not knowing what to expect, but I ended up losing those nerves as I saw how everyone was treated with such respect.
Before the games started, I was able to watch my team practice. Being a “Fan in the Stand”, I could see firsthand people caring for one another and showing patience toward each other. It was great to see everyone being treated equally and respectfully. When I asked Jackson how it felt to play he told me: “It changed how I view others by showing me that everyone is capable of anything.”
I believe that being able to participate in Unified bocce allowed us to learn many things, and we brought our new-found knowledge back to our school. I now understand that I can help others who are not always treated as they should be. When Jackson and I were sharing our experiences, we both agreed that community events, like bocce, can change the way kids act in our school. “It can change our school by showing that all people are equal,” Jackson said after the games.
Aidan Rawson, Oxford High School
Events like the Special Olympics Massachusetts Unified Bocce Tournament are an excellent example of how important it is to continuously work on making our schools a safe and inclusive environment for ALL students. In a world divided by race, gender, sexuality, and religion, inclusion is often lost behind the hatred, pity, envy, and spite of some people. Our generation is responsible for changing this, and events like this have done an excellent job of jump-starting that change. Unified Sports, Best Buddies Chapters, Gay-Straight Alliances, Cultural & Religious Clubs, and other inclusive environments within our schools inspire students like myself to make the world a more welcoming place.
Every person deserves to feel like they have a safe space to be their authentic self, and a group of people they can connect with. When I was a young middle schooler who had just recently come out, I knew the feeling of dis-clusion all too well. However, when I kicked off freshman year in high school, I knew I wanted to make that change. My mission was to make my school a more inclusive and accepting place for everyone, regardless of what made us “different.” As a result, I immediately jumped into student leadership. Student Council and Best Buddies provided me with the opportunity to participate in events like the Bocce Tournament, along with a plethora of other opportunities to hone my leadership skills. I recall my first ever bocce tournament at Grafton High School like it was yesterday. That day changed my life, as I came to realize that something as simple as playing bocce reminds kids that they have friends they can rely on, a team they can be a part of, and fans to cheer them on. Sometimes we ALL need to be reminded of that. I am so thankful for the experiences and long-lasting memories that the bocce tournaments provided me and so many other kids with. The memories will live on as the fuel to the fire that is the #InclusionRevolution. .