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Little City’s Bocce team rolling to gold

When people think of Special Olympics, they often think of the amazing feats of strength seen in powerlifting, overcoming exhaustion and pain in track and field and pushing hard to set records in a swimming pool. But what is often forgotten is the sport that puts the game in Summer Games.

Little City will look to take gold in bocce ball when it heads to Bloomington on June 15 for the 2018 Illinois Special Olympics Summer Games. There will be a total of six Little City athletes competing in bocce, but former gold medalists Andy S. and Diane T. could be the ones to once again lead the way.

“We’ve done it before so we’re not worried,” Andy said of competing at the Summer Games. “We’ve done track and field together before too and we’ve won gold medals.”

Andy and Diane work best as a tandem in bocce, but they will also be going for gold as individuals in bocce as well. After years of playing, they’ve mastered the game that requires players to throw their ball closest to the target.

It may seem simple but the strategy can get quite complex as players can hit opponents’ bocce balls to get favorable positions and use other throws to prevent their opponents from getting clear paths to the target.

“These two are quite accomplished as a team and individually,” said Little City coach Tim Lahart. “They know how to make adjustments, which not everyone can do. The ground is never the same so they learn to read it and adjust their throws.”

The most important skills in this subtly complex game are hand-eye coordination and mental focus. Even the best track athletes and powerlifters can lack the patience and precision necessary to succeed at bocce. But the accessibility of the game, Tim said, makes it one of the most popular Special Olympics activities as people can start at any age and skill level.

That makes the continued success of Andy and Diane even more impressive as they compete in one of the most popular sports and have to defeat a large number of opponents just to qualify for the Summer Games. But it is easy to see how both thrive off the competition.

At practice when they compete against each other, the early chatter and smiles at the beginning of the game quickly turn into focused faces and silence as both close in on a win.

“They get really competitive with each other,” Tim said. “They know a point can be all the difference.”

But win or lose, when the game is over Andy and Diane like Special Olympics for a simple reason.

“It’s fun,” Andy said. “And we like our teammates and coaches.”

“Little City uses an affirming message – that it’s a good world, there’s a place for my kids in the world and Little City will help them find it.”

Rachel, mother of children receiving home-based support services