Pride of Pennsylvania

The NPHS Unified Bocce team captured the PIAA State title in just their first year as a team


Submitted Photo

ON A ROLL! The 2018 NPHS Unified Bocce team celebrates the PIAA State Championship in their first season.

The Special Olympics Association says, “Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.”

The North Penn Navy Bocce Ball team, making a name for themselves as the underdogs, used friendship and understanding to win the PIAA Bocce Ball State Championship on March 23rd.

“Throughout the day we improved tremendously. We started off by losing our first two games and took it pretty hard, As we got our spirits up and made it clear that we really all just have fun as a team playing, we became 100% times better. We had smiles on our faces no matter what and continuously won game after game,” said senior partner Julie Mumford.

The team suffered a tough loss in the first match to the defending state champions Rochester 11-0. The next match was a little bit closer of a match in score, but North Penn ended up losing to Hill-Freedman 5-3. North Penn needed to win our third game of pool play to stay alive in the tournament.

“We improved so much as the games went on. At first we were a little nervous but once we started to play for fun again and not just to win the trophy, it all started to come together for us. We worked great together and genuinely loved to spend time together as a team so I️ think teamwork definitely helped us to win the championship,” said senior partner Mia Melchior.

With a little bit of teamwork and encouragement, North Penn beat Grove City 3-2 in the third match of pool play to put them in the Final 8 round of the tournament.

“Before the final 8 round began, one of the administrators for Special Olympics told me he counted us out after losing our first two matches. I then went back to the team and reminded them how the media had counted out the Philadelphia Eagles, after Carson Wentz was injured, but they came back and won it all.  The ‘underdog’ North Penn Knights then won the rest of their matches,” said Head Coach Kristen Pananski.

It was not until after the gold medal match did North Penn find out that the team they  played to win the title (Sun Valley HS) had not lost a match the entire season. North Penn won the gold medal match 14-7.

“It took me a good 48 hours for the reality of that day to set in for me. I was shocked it happened to be honest. All of these students on this team never played bocce competitively until last December. Every one of them tried something out of their comfort zone with students they never had interacted with before and won the state title. It is extremely rewarding to me to see how happy and proud the team and all of NPHS are of this accomplishment. Many of the students on this team would have never had the chance to become a PIAA athlete without North Penn introducing Unified Sports. Playing bocce this year gave all students on this team an opportunity learn a new sport, learn how to strategize together, and make new friends,” said Kristin Pananski.

This year’s team set the bar high. All 8 of our partners (students without disabilities) and 2 of our athletes (students with disabilities) are graduating. That being said, Coach Panaski does not see recruiting students for Bocce Ball next year being a problem.

“A lot of work went into becoming Bocce Ball State Champions this year. I would like to thank Ms. Jermain, Mr. Pollock and Mrs. Flocco for helping coach this season with me. I also would like to thank all students and staff that volunteered their time to either perform or help run our matches we hosted this season. Back-to-back state championships would be amazing, but I think making the state tournament would be the first goal to set. Class of 2019, 2020 and 2021 – keep your ears open next fall for your chance to be a Unified Bocce team member,” said Coach Pananski.