Athletes participating in the Richmond County Special Olympics gathered on Thursday to compete in the annual Bocce tournament at East Rockingham Park. Nearly 80 competitors lined up to test their skills in the game loosely referred to as Italian lawn bowling.
“Special Olympics North Carolina serves over 38,000 athletes total and Richmond County is one of them,” said Lindsay Polaski, senior area director. “Bocce is a really popular sport among our athletes across the state because it’s a sport that athletes with all abilities can really participate in, as well as all ages. It’s also a good sport to unify them.”
Both students and adults participated in the competition, which county coordinator Cathy Hoggard said typically elicits a smaller crowd than the games held during the spring season.
“The Special Olympics offer year round training in a variety of things,” said Hoggard. “In Richmond County, we offer Bocce, bowling, track and field and equestrian.”
Spring events include a bowling tournament held on March 5 at Striker’s Bowling Alley in Rockingham, and the Spring Games, which are set to kick off in early May at Richmond Senior High School.
Other sports are also in the works for Richmond County, Hoggard added.
“There are other things we’d like to look at,” she said. “We’ve got a couple of coaches trying to start cheerleading.”
Volleyball and basketball are also being considered among the new athletics.
“For a while there was nothing offered,” Hoggard said about Special Olympics in the county. “We’ve probably been back and active for 7 or 8 years. It’s really grown and a lot of our athletes do everything we offer.”
She said the county has athletes that participate in nearly every competition at the state games.
On Thursday, competitors cheered each other on as they put hours of preparation to the test.
“In order to compete, all athletes have to have eight hours of training before the competition,” Hoggard said.
While they waited for their turn on the field, participants also played Cornhole and soccer. The park remained crowded throughout the morning as parents, staff and volunteers helped keep the event running smoothly, but, according to Hoggard, there’s always room for more.
“Right now, we need volunteers for coaching and training the athletes, as well as people who can help us on the day of events,” she said. “This has really grown and (the athletes) all enjoy it. We’ve heard them talk about the social connections they’re making — they’ve made friendships and relationships with people they didn’t otherwise know.”
For more information about volunteering or participating in the Special Olympics, contact Cathy Hoggard at 910-895-5946 or 910-997-9805, ext. 301.
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.