Five local male bocce players brought back four medals from the 2017 Special Olympics Alberta Summer Games, which ran in Medicine Hat from July 7 to 9.
Special Olympics Alberta-Whitecourt players Leo Blanchette and Byron Baker each won gold medals, while Jake Pearson and Quinn Fisher each won silver.
“We were surprised. A lot of athletes really honed their skills over the last two years,” said assistant coach Bill Leonard. “There was a lot of challenging games and discipline from the athletes. Whether winning or losing, they rose to the challenge.”
Bocce is played between two players or teams, in this case players. The first player throws a small ball and both players then try to throw larger balls as close to it as possible. Whichever player has the closest large ball wins the match, receiving one point for any balls closer than the opponent’s nearest one.
Leonard explained that bocce was a relatively easy game to pick up, with his players practicing every week for the past two years. Basketball and swimming are the only other sports currently offered by the Whitecourt chapter of Special Olympics Alberta.
“As for right now, it’s just the three till we get some more interest,” Leonard said.
Leonard said he started coaching for Special Olympics Alberta-Whitecourt because he had a daughter with a disability, adding that he hadn’t ever coached beforehand.
“I went through a few courses put on by Special Olympics Canada and received certificates from coaching. It’s an ongoing thing,” Leonard said.
Byron Baker was one of the players to win a gold medal in Medicine Hat. He said it was the first one he had ever earned in his life.
“I like bocce, but I’ve been doing it ever since I was a kid, so it’s not that hard for me,” Baker said.
Baker said one of his favourite parts about bocce is that it helps him with his hand-eye co-ordination.
“Pretty much when you play, you have to be really focused and concentrate on your shot,” he said. “It’s just a very fun game and I think a lot of people should give it a try.”