Maria Artista walks the hallways at Manchester Valley High School and spots several of her athletes as they shuffle to class or stop to greet a schoolmate. It’s those moments, she said, that give Artista the most satisfaction.
She’s in her second year as coach of the Mavericks’ bocce ball team, which competes as part of Carroll County’s corollary sports fall program. The Mavs hosted Westminster on Tuesday in the school cafeteria, where students with disabilities formed teams and participated in a game in front of family and friends.
“The kids, they want to be just like the mainstream kids,” Artista said. “They come up me and they’re like, ‘Hey, Coach!’ And it’s just so rewarding to me to hear my name. And they ask me, ‘Coach, do we have a game today?’ And they know we have a game. But just because they want to be part of that team, they’re excited. Just knowing that they’re on the team, and they’re athletes, they are Mavericks. That’s what brings the excitement out.”
Every Carroll school fields a bocce team, including a few players from Gateway School, with close to 40 students participating. Man Valley’s team beat Westminster in a pair of bocce games, but players on each side enjoyed the event and had moments of success.
Bocce teams consist of four players, with each team trying to roll their balls closest to the pallino (the small starter ball that marks a position, or target, on the court). Corollary sports courts are lined with connected PVC pipes, and the bocce balls are made of a soft rubber material.
In 2008, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act, which requires that county boards of education grant students with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in physical education programs and on mainstream athletic teams.
Carroll introduced its Corollary Athletic Program in 2010 as a result, with unified athletics such as floor hockey, bowling, corn toss, indoor softball, track and field, and bocce. The sports are designed to mix general education kids with special education kids.
Katie McDonald, a special education teacher at Westminster High, works with these students during the day. As their bocce coach, McDonald said she enjoys seeing a different side of them when it’s time to compete. McDonald shares bocce coaching duties with Natasha Costley.
“Just them interacting with their parents, their peers, and their friends who come out and watch them,” McDonald said during a break in the match. “Bocce is cool because it’s a different sport. I wouldn’t have learned how to play bocce if it wasn’t for them.”
Trey Colassard might have had the most fun of his Manchester Valley bocce teammates. He sought hugs and high-fives from almost everyone in the cafeteria, displayed concentration when it was his turn to roll, and cheered when anyone got close to the pallino.
Colassard posed for some with fellow bocce players following the match, and the senior couldn’t help himself from making faces and holding up “peace” signs with his hands. Artista and other adults simply smiled along.
“[Monday] we had our end-of-the season banquet, an ice cream social,” Artista said. “We did a little Senior Night for him, and he was all about it.”
Artista expects Colassard to be back for bowling in the winter and corn toss in the spring. Others will most certainly join him. Same goes for the rest of Carroll’s corollary teams and athletes.
“This is where they can come after school and be together,” Artista said. “And they look forward to it all the time.”