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Corollary Sports: Carroll athletes embrace opportunity to compete in corn toss

Emily Barker carefully positioned herself in a perfect line to make her best shot when she stepped up to throw her bean bag.

Every time one of her teammates took a turn, she guided them to a perfect position at the line and high-fived them after every toss.

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Barker, a senior at Westminster, has been participating in the Carroll County Corollary Athletic Program for four years. On Monday, the Owls hosted teams from the seven other county schools in a corn toss county championship.

The program, modeled after the Baltimore County "Allied Sports" and the Special Olympic "Unified Sports" program, began in Carroll five years ago. The CAP is an integrated program where students, with and without disabilities get an opportunity to participate on competitive sports teams.

Each season, the students play a different sport. This way, they can experience different forms of competition and identify new talents in exposure to new sports.

Bocce ball takes place in the fall, bowling is in the winter, and corn toss — now in its second season — is played in the spring.

"Bocce ball is my favorite because with that you can be a little off and still score points," Westminster junior Michael Bollinger said. "With corn toss, if you're off you don't get points."

Boards are set up with one hole in the middle and each team postions themselves behind a board. The goal is to throw the beanbag into the hole for three points, but if the bag lands on the board and remains, one point is awarded. Opposing teams can try to knock bags off the board to eliminate potential points.

The Owls finished the spring with the best corn toss record, but Francis Scott Key came away with the county title Monday. Westminster defeated Century to capture third place.

Bollinger has been an avid participant in the Corollary Athletic Program for three years, and for him, it's not about winning or losing.

"I love being here to hang out with friends," Bollinger said. "Not all of us kids get to play with the big athletic teams but we still get something out of it."

It was hard not to notice the joy and excitement emanating from the athletes as they fought to toss their bean bags through the boards. If they didn't score, they kept trying rather letting it upset them.

Shouts and cheers from the crowd made up of teachers, families, and friends put permanent smiles on the athletes' faces as they played and Westminster coach Natasha Costley took notice.

"The parents really enjoy it," Costley said. "The students with special needs closely work with our general education students and they become friends so they build relationships outside of corn toss and it's important for the families."

Costley is a life skills teacher at Westminster and Barker is one of her students. She coached bocce ball in the fall and said this is her first year coaching a corn toss team.

"The kids get really excited," Costley said. "On game days, they wear their jerseys to school like any other sports team would do. They love to hear their name on the announcements and ask 'Coach Costley, are we going to be on the announcements tomorrow?' They live to hear their names on the announcements and they love the competition with other schools."

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Costley said her athletes have friends from other county schools and they enjoy sparking a little rivalry with each other come game day. Opportunities like this have made the event successful.

This is Barker's last year playing and she said she's enjoyed her experience with the Corollary Athletic Program. Encouraging her teammates along the way has been a positive boost for her as well.

"It's been fun," Barker said, wrapping her arms around her coach's waist. "I've been playing for four years and I love it, I have the best coach."

Bollinger has played other sports and said he likes to be a leader, whether he's helping to coach underclassmen, cheering them on or helping others with their techniques. When asked if he will return for corn toss next year, he didn't hesitate to say that he would.

"Definitely, definitely," he said. "I've always been a real competitive person so that's always been my personality. Today was good, but we've had some better games. We got third place but you're not going to win every year. We did better than we did in bocce so this was a rebuilding year for us.

"A lot of our seniors are leaving us this year but we don't really care about getting third, as long as we got to hang out with our friends, that's what matters."

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