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South Valley Riverton Journal

Special Olympics Utah, Oquirrh Hills Middle School host first middle school bocce ball tournament in the state

May 07, 2024 12:15PM ● By Rebecca Olds

Brinleigh Jenkins, a student athlete at Oquirrh Hills Middle School, throws the bocce ball for her team. (Rebecca Olds/City Journals)

Bocce ball is something that everyone can get involved with — both students with cognitive disabilities and their peers who don’t have those disabilities alike. 

On April 23, 250 students from nine different schools gathered alongside more than 500 parent and student volunteers at Oquirrh Hills Middle School for the Special Olympics Utah’s first middle school bocce ball tournament. 

“This is amazing because [those with disabilities] don’t get to be a part of anything,” said Eileen Siavrakas, event organizer and a special education teacher at Oquirrh Hills Middle School. “I like the inclusion and them having their time to be celebrated.”

Tournaments like this have been hosted by Special Olympics Utah for more than 15 years, including in high schools across the state, but this is the organization’s first time hosting a middle school bocce ball tournament.

The 59 bocce ball teams at the event were each made up of four teammates, two with cognitive disabilities and two without, called unified partners. Each team gets balls to throw and earns points by getting the balls close to the pallino, or the white, smaller target ball.

Oquirrh Hills Middle School was asked to host the first tournament with hopes that more and more middle schools across the state will be able to participate. Most schools that participated were from Jordan School District, but one school from Alpine was also included.

“My goal is to make it amazing so that it can happen again,” Siavrakas said.

Siavrakas organized the event while working closely with Boston Iacobazzi, from Special Olympics Utah, who won the national title for bocce ball in high school. He went on to study special education in college and found his way back to Special Olympics Utah as an employee.

“I think the tournaments like this are great, but I think the practice season is even better,” Iacobazzi said. “Getting them together once a week for practices, they’re building relationships and they come out to the tournaments and get to show off their friendships they’ve made.” 

Carrie Jenkins’ daughter, Brinleigh Jenkins, was a bocce ball player at the event. Brinleigh had won the previous weekend’s bocce ball competition with her team, but her mom said that having something “to be a part of” has been something even more special.

“She’s a very social kid, so this is awesome for her,” Jenkins said. 

Justi Lundeberg volunteered at the event alongside her daughter who was a referee at the event and a current student body officer and peer tutor at Oquirrh Hills. Lundeberg said her daughter was up late the night before studying the rules of the game to make sure the matches she refereed
were fair. 

Even though Lundeberg hadn’t heard of bocce ball before, she said it was “inspiring” to watch the teams compete.

“It’s really fun to watch the teams congratulate each other,” Lundeberg said. “They’re jumping up and down for the other team when they knock their ball out. I think it’s just inspiring.”

There were 15 teams who won their division at the event. λ