How Broken Hill got bowled over by boccia
A persuasive student and the department's School Sport Unit have helped a new sport gain traction in Broken Hill. Glenn Cullen reports.
23 May 2022
In the searing heat of a far western NSW summer, the School Sport Unit’s Disability Inclusion team came to introduce the coolest sport around: boccia.
A take on the classic Italian pastime of bocce, the precision ball game has been a staple of the Paralympic Games since 1984 and has more than 75 national federations.
Australia even won its first medal in the event at last year’s Tokyo Paralympics.
But the growing hype around the sport hadn’t exactly infiltrated the mining city: at least until Willyama High School student, Cal Shepherd caught sight of it.
Cal, who has cerebral palsy, became so enamoured with the sport that his parents, Megan (Assistant Principal at Morgan Street Public School) and father Grant (principal at Willyama High School) considered making a 1200km trek to the coast because it wasn’t available to play in Broken Hill.
Instead, they contacted the SSU Disability Inclusion team. After a number of online meetings, they came to Broken Hill in December 2021 with $4500 of specialised equipment and a team ready to teach them the game.
SSU Disability Inclusion team staff would go on to visit nine schools, delivering 70 instructional sessions to over 1500 students, including more than 150 students with disability.
The kids loved it – and boccia had itself another home.
“It’s do-able for pretty much anybody – and there’s not a lot of sports at an elite level where you can say that,” Mrs Shepherd said.
“When I looked at a sport I didn’t want to have kids who had a disability and kids who didn’t separate. I wanted it as an all-in together.”
That’s the boccia appeal. If you have a disability but still have some motor skills you can roll the ball by hand. If you have motor control difficulties, you can use a ramp. And if you can’t roll the ball with your hands, you can have a head pointer or call upon an assistant for help.
“We didn’t have to advocate for equal access or equity, it’s already in the design of the game,” said Simeon Kloczko, Assistant Principal Learning and Support Broken Hill region.
“As many people have said, this may be one of the only opportunities for some of our kids to access an elite or competitive level of sport.
“A lot of these kids have enough challenges and barriers in their lives. It’s great to be able to tear those down and provide an opportunity locally.”
Cal, who quickly took to the sport, now has his own boccia set.
While COVID has unfortunately ruled him out of playing at the area’s championship on Wednesday, he’ll undoubtedly be cheering hard for Willyama High School – one of seven public schools taking part – to emerge victoriously.
With the winners going on to the NSW championship in Sydney in August, there’s expected to be some healthy competition for the region’s first state representative.
And there’s plenty more to aspire to.
Former students who entered the sport via this competition include Daniel Michel (individual bronze, Tokyo Paralympics) and Daniel Michel and Jamieson Leeson (pairs gold) at the 2022 World Championships.
For more information about the boccia knockout or other sporting opportunities on offer for students with disabilities, contact the SSU Disability Inclusion Officers at InclusiveSchoolSport@det.nsw.edu.au or call 02 95085534.