By BOB PARASILITI
10:57 PM EST, February 14, 2013
To Chantell Keefer, Hagerstown Community College was a magical place on Thursday.
She could sense it in everything she did.
Keefer and students from across Western Maryland converged on the school’s athletic complex to compete in the third unified sports state bocce tournament with a chance to walk away as a champion.
Winning was a big thing, but it wasn’t the only thing.
“You do your work and do your magic,” said Keefer, a member of one of Clear Spring’s two bocce teams.
Unified sports is a competition initiative pioneered in Maryland, created to give students with special needs the opportunity to compete in varsity sports. The programs combine those with special needs with able-bodied teammates, working together as a team and playing for the school colors.
For Keefer, the ability to sense her surroundings was important, especially since her eyes are sensitive to light, impairing her vision.
But that’s OK, because Keefer gets by with a little help from her friends, like Clear Spring freshman Alexa Filip, who helps her Blazer teammate envision the shots at hand.
Filip was in Keefer’s corner, providing coordinates and encouragement for each shot.
“I go with her to help get her in the right direction and just tell her to do her best,” Filip said. “I tell her to do her magic.
“I like working with special needs kids. I play softball and I feel fortunate because they can’t do what I can. When I play on regular teams, we all know what to do. Here, all these players know what to do, we are here to encourage them to bring it out and focus.”
Keefer wears sunglasses to help temper the lighting for some visual focus, but the images she sees aren’t sharp. She admits she doesn’t see what she is shooting at, but it doesn’t matter.
‘I’m just excited because I like playing,” Keefer said. “I like hanging out with my friends.”
That made winning the title low on a priority list as this Clear Spring team finished second in Division 3, losing 15-9 to Tuscarora in the championship match.
The teams were divided into five divisions with brackets of six to eight teams. Each team placed and every participant received at least a ribbon. Each team had the opportunity to stand on the awards podium to receive their awards, complete with Olympic theme music and a public introduction.
Bocce is also known as lawn bowling. It carries some of the principles of horse shoes with the scoring stake being replaced by a target ball which is rolled before every session. Teams get four shots each to roll balls aimed to be at being the closest to the target ball.
Each ball closest to the target and inside the opponents’ shots earns a point. The matches last 30 minutes or until one team scores 16 points, which ever comes first.
Hancock was the only team to win a state championship. The two-time Washington County champions claimed their first state title, winning the Division 5 title in a 16-3 victory over Frederick.
“We got lucky against Northern Garrett and got a few good shots,” said Hancock coach Ben Draper. “The kids are all excited (about winning the title). It’s nice to see the kids all blend together. One of our kids said it best when he spoke the other day at our basketball game. ‘You don’t have to be an athlete, to be an athlete.’”
Draper told his team to make sure they wore their gold medals to school today.
On this day, everyone at HCC was an athlete.
Eleven Washington County teams participated in the tournament.
Clear Spring’s other team finished eighth in Division 4. North Hagerstown and Boonsboro, which won a state title last year, finished sixth and eighth in Division 3.
Smithsburg placed third in Division 1 and fourth in Division 2. Williamsport as third in Division 3 and sixth in Division 5. And South Hagerstown was eighth in Division 2 and seventh in Division 1.
In its three years of existence, the bocce tournament has become more competitive. Teams are grasping the excitement of the event and learning to use strategy to make it more than just an exhibition.
Keefer was excited about receiving her silver medal.
“I think it’s good,” she said. “That’s because I like it.”
But there was more significance to the whole day.
“I didn’t expect to win, but I wanted to be in the top three,” said Clear Spring coach Aline Novak. “I go into everything expecting to win, but I always have a little hint reminding me we might finish fourth. I prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
“But before this final match, I got the team together and told them no matter what, they were winners already.”
Copyright © 2013, Herald Mail