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School News

By Lillian Bradford

The 2023 Thomas Jefferson High School Bocce Team
The TJ Bocce Team is shown competing against Baldwin.

A new team was added to Thomas Jefferson High School’s substantial sports offerings during the 2023-24 school year… Unified Bocce! Special Olympics Pennsylvania, with the assistance of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), has created a unified bocce program for schools across the Commonwealth. They’ve worked with 91 schools in 12 counties to create Unified bocce, track, and soccer teams.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the game, bocce was popularized in Italy and brought to America, and involves a pallina, a small usually lighter-colored ball, that is rolled, followed by eight bocce balls divided among two teams. The teams take turns seeing who can get their bocce ball closest to the pallina to score points.

High School teachers Emily Leininger and Michael Rose worked together alongside their TJ Best Buddies Club members to form the bocce team. Their goal is to unite athletes with and without disabilities. The team played matches at Keystone Oaks and Upper St. Clair and hosted Baldwin and South Park in TJ Gymnasium, having a great time during their season. The team also participated in several activities, including a school pep rally and a teacher and administration versus students matches.

At a school pep rally, senior Ariann Downer was recognized for being a dual-sport athlete during the winter season; also playing on the girls basketball team. Ariann, and former TJ student, Sydney Shelpman, were recognized at Senior Night before the match against South Park. On Senior Night, Ariann’s basketball team came to support her. The Jaguars’ bocce team won the match in overtime, called the “golden frame.”

The Unified bocce team was recognized at the WJHSD School Board meeting for their first year and accomplishments. The squad was presented certificates for their hard work.

Members of the bocce team included: Kaitlyn Anderson, Lily Bradford, Noah Carlins, Ariann Downer, Abby Kauffman, Emma Pritchard, Gary Pritchard, Charlotte Rockwell, Sydney Shelpman, Noah Skalos, Cameron Skalos and Grace Vogtsberger.

The TJ Unified bocce team and coaches had a wonderful time this past season, and are very thankful for the support and opportunities.

(Author Lillian Bradford is a rising sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School).



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