BLOOMSBURG — Mike Drotar said the best part about competing in the annual Special Olympics Bocce Ball Bash at Bloomsburg University is "getting along with everybody."
The 28-year-old from Paxinos was part of a unified team — one team member mentally challenged, the other not — in the competition. He competed with his mother in the event Sunday in the university's Nelson Field House on the upper campus.
For Sonya Herrick, who competes on a traditional team of two mentally challenged members, "The best part is my coach," she said as she put her arm around her mother, Pat Herrick, of Selinsgrove, head coach of the Northumberland & Snyder County Special Olympics bocce teams. Bocce is also known as Italian lawn bowling.
Sunday was the 16th annual Bloomsburg University Bocce Ball Bash, co-hosted by the BU chapter of the Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) along with the Special Olympics Pennsylvania, Columbia/Montour Counties. Close to 400 Special Olympic athletes from more than 20 counties across Pennsylvania competed.
Pat Herrick said events like the bocce tournament are the only place anyone can see some of the potential athletes involved with Special Olympics.
"They're trying to come up with sports they can play into adulthood and old age," she said. "Most of my athletes compete in other sports."
One of those is Paul Bettendorf, 52, who is from Lewisburg but was competing with the Northumberland and Snyder team because athletes can choose with whom they want to compete, Herrick said. Bettendorf said he has been competing with Special Olympics for 32 years. Despite needing a wheelchair to get around, he has competed in bowling, horseback riding and swimming, in addition to bocce.
The bocce tournament was considered a local event. Herrick said the Eastern state sectional to qualify for the state competition was held last week at DeSales University in Center Valley, near Allentown, and the state finals are at Villanova University Nov. 1 to 3.
Athletes, coaches, family members and about 170 student volunteers filled the fieldhouse, where the gym floor was sectioned off into separate bocce lanes the width of the gym. Student Karen Pickering of the SCEC said the tournament included opening, medal and closing ceremonies and an "Olympic Village" where athletes and others could play bingo and other games and do crafts. Everyone could bid on items, such as a pumpkin-carving kit or various crafts given away during a silent auction. A few therapy dogs also were at the event.
Pickering said the volunteers included students from different areas of study, some from fraternities, sororities or university clubs.
"I think what's special about it is it's not just from the education realm," she said.
John Bressler, of Bloomsburg, brought 14 teams of two players each from Columbia/Montour counties that included his daughters, Stacey, 32, and Ashley, 30.
"I usually have 30 athletes," he said. "At present, we had one scratch because of health reasons."
Bressler said the first-, second- and third-place medals would be handed out when it was over.
Stacey Bressler and her teammate, Brandon Weaver, 23, also of Bloomsburg, chatted as they were waiting for their finals match against a team from Delaware County.
Weaver said the highlight of the tournament was "watching everybody play."
Stacey liked the competition, and "watching them have fun."