CASTINE — Not even a daylong torrential downpour could stop athletes from throughout eastern Maine from having a good time at Maine Maritime Academy last week.
Roughly 40 bocce ball teams from all over the region came to MMA’s Castine campus on Thursday for this year’s edition of Special Olympics Maine’s regional bocce ball championships. The event brought teams affiliated with the Penobscot-Piscataquis-Hancock chapter of the Special Olympics, which provides sporting opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities, to the western tip of Hancock County.
“It’s a great event to be able to host every year,” said Faculty Athletic Representative George Schatz. “We’re a small campus, and this is something that a lot of people get involved with and that brings a lot of people here.”
This year marked the eighth year in a row MMA has hosted the event, which is one of many sports offered by Special Olympics Maine. The school’s involvement with the program began in 2011 after the NCAA launched a Special Olympics initiative at the Division III level.
Although the rain threatened to move the games inside, events were still held on MMA’s football field. The space allowed room for eight different courts, and the single-elimination tournament continued until a winner was declared.
Students came out to support, too. More than 50 student volunteers were present to help organize the tournament and assist by any means necessary as the tournament got under way. Some, including sophomore Hannah Philippon, even participated in the games as unified partners.
“We have a very active student body, and people wanted to come out to support a great cause,” Philippon said. “It shows how unified and close the school and all the people here are as a campus and as a community.”
The tournament has gotten bigger with each passing year. Last year’s tournament draw 59 teams, a total that could have been surpassed this year had the weather cooperated.
“We had more than 70 teams signed up, and we probably would’ve gotten that on any other day,” said Special Olympics Coordinator Jeff Bosse. “There’s no reason that number can’t get even bigger when next year’s tournament rolls around.”
Bosse leads preparation for the event, but many coaches are also involved. Athletic Director Steve Peed and Associate Athletic Director Tricia Carver are among the leaders in that effort.
“It’s a family effort because the people here on campus know most of the people here from other students to their professors,” said Carver, who also coaches the school’s volleyball team. “The fact that we can do it every year says a lot about the people here and the environment we’ve created on campus.”
Because MMA’s student body is relatively small at fewer than 1,000 undergraduate students, the influx of people for the tournament creates a swell in the campus population. Yet for the student body, faculty and administration at MMA, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
“It gets pretty crazy around here, but it’s worth it when you look around and see smiles on everybody’s faces and people having such an incredible time bonding with each other,” Schatz said. “We hope we’re able to do this for years to come.”