There was no shortage of school spirit at Charlottetown Rural High School Thursday as students from across the Island came together to compete in Special Olympics P.E.I.'s provincial unified bocce championships.
Special Olympics P.E.I. says the tournament is part of a program that aims to promote sport and inclusion in Island high schools.
"We see the benefits of having a more inclusive atmosphere in our schools and how that relates to the wider world," said Sarah Profitt-Wagner, membership services co-ordinator with Special Olympics P.E.I.
"Schools are doing such great work to promote inclusion in everything that they do, so from a sports perspective because that's what Special Olympics does, this is how we can kind of contribute."
More than 250 students from across the Island spent months preparing for the tournament. Profitt-Wagner said the 21 teams were made up of students who participate in a leadership class at their schools and students with intellectual disabilities.
"These students come together and play on the same team, on the same court," she said.
Profitt-Wagner said bocce is a game that can be adapted to any skill level and since many of the students were new to the sport, it gave them a chance to get the hang of it together.
Kelly Pike, an inclusive education teacher at Charlottetown Rural, said her students have been looking forward to the tournament for months.
She said it's been a great way to get them excited about their school community.
"A lot of our inclusive-ed students have never been involved in sport before or haven't been a part of a team," Pike said.
"So any time we have the opportunity get our students involved in sport or just involved more in the school community, we try our best to take advantage of every opportunity that's offered."
Bradley Arsenault was competing on Charlottetown Rural's team. He said he'd only tried bocce once or twice before joining the team, but he's quickly gotten the hang of it.
"It's great experience, good for people who are just getting into high school," Arsenault said. "It's a good place to start off if you're interested in doing sports but not being in a gym class."
Arsenault's teammate Alex Doyle said the program was a great way to meet new people and find unique ways to give back to his school community.
"It's really cool because it's not every day you get to perform in front of your school so getting to do this with the … inclusive-ed students it's a really cool opportunity," Doyle said.
Hopes to expand program
Students from each school also volunteered as scorekeepers, referees and commentators for the event — and some came along to cheer on their team.
Profitt-Wagner said the program also introduces students to activities and volunteer opportunities with Special Olympics P.E.I.
The initiative started as a pilot project in three Island high schools in 2017. Profitt-Wagner said the program has since expanded to six schools and Special Olympics P.E.I. hopes to grow the program further.
"We've seen lots of growth, we've seen lot's of interest from schools so it's definitely something we hope to pursue in the future and continue to grow and reach more Island schools."
Special Olympics P.E.I. plans to hold the provincial tournament again next year.
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