Unified Bocce Team Unites Steel Valley Community

The Steel Valley Unified Bocce team poses

Story by Jodi Geyer, Steel Valley English Teacher

The Ironmen fans represented on Wednesday, January 24 at the first home game of the Unified Bocce Team. Dozens of teachers and administrators, as well as fans, cheerleaders, and ASL interpreters, showed up to cheer on the athletes.

Bocce has been a PIAA-sanctioned sport for more than a decade but is new to Steel Valley. Its members are diverse, inclusive, and the best of friends. The team is led by senior Vinton Kellar, junior Abigail Fitzgerald, sophomores Shaterra Meadows, Camyia Anderson, and Holden Labischak, and freshman Matthew Fulmore. Aden DeMartino, sophomore, serves as a practice partner and score keeper.

Most people don’t know how to pronounce bocce (think baw chee), let alone play it, and the team members had a lot to learn in a little time. From learning the objective of the game - to get as many balls as possible closer to the pallina or target ball - to strategy - breaking up the other team’s play by knocking their balls out of the way - the team has learned that working together is the best way to win.

The time commitment is intense; members are not permitted to participate in other school-sanctioned sports. Team member Abigail Fitzgerald wasn’t sure at first if she could commit to the sport. Fitzgerald said, “I was really nervous to start something new but now I’m glad that I did.”

Members of the bocce team celebrate on the bench

She added, “this has been an incredible experience for me. I’ve seen such a growth in confidence among my teammates and we’ve had a lot of fun.”

The team has no captain; instead, all students share the responsibility. Kellar, the team’s only senior, opened the season as captain and was acknowledged at Senior Rec on Tuesday, January 30. Teams in the conference include: Baldwin, South Park, Bethel Park, Brashear, and Thomas Jefferson. Students competed against schools with much larger teams. But the tough competition doesn’t scare Fulmore, who has learned to balance his time between Bocce, Dungeons and Dragons, and Art Club.

Fulmore said, “I take it seriously but still have fun.”

Matthew Fulmore makes a throw

The team is coached by a staff of volunteers that include Beth and Shawn McCallister, Pat Loughran as line judge, and School Board President Jim Bulger as referee. Though the adults are putting a lot of hours into practices and coaching the team, the experience is rewarding. Loughran, Steel Valley Math teacher and former baseball coach stated, “When I was asked to take part as a bocce referee it was easy to say yes.  The opportunity to be part of something so positive happening in the SV community was easy to get involved with.  As a former baseball coach in the district, I have seen firsthand how this community shows up to support the positive things that are happening.  It has been and enjoyable experience to return the support that I have seen those players receive.”

Shaterra Meadows prepares for her turn

Additional volunteers included Mr. Labishak and Mr. Abraham announcing and running the scoreboard, Mrs. Dolton and Mrs. Lyons helping ensure everything is in place for matches, Ms. Wright and the art club creating signs, and the students with the Ironmen Cafe, under the direction of Mrs. Bell and Mrs. Furrick, running the concession stand.

Matt Simpson, teacher and Baseball Coach stated, “it was an awesome experience to see so many staff, students, and parents come out to support this wonderful group of students who doesn’t always get the recognition they deserve.” Simpson planned to take his baseball team to the final match in a show of unity, school spirit, and support. “We often forget about the smaller teams just starting out,” he said.

Abbi Fitzgerald bowls the bocce ball

The athletes are supported by their families, friends, and school community, including the Ironmen cheerleaders. Senior Class President and cheerleader Duane Carter said, “it’s important that we represent all of the teams because all of our students need a safe place where they can feel connected and included.”    

Wednesday’s competition saw an overtime frame in the second match, resulting in an SV win in the first match. Baldwin won the second match in overtime, and a golden frame was played to determine the school winner, which was SV. As the bleachers reverberated with cheers and fans held up signs of the players, junior Ameer Berry summed it up by saying, “the community showed up and showed love for our team.”

Vinton Kellar watches his throw