Colleen DeMille is thrilled to have helped bring the sport of boccia to the Quinte area and hopes to see it continue to grow.
DeMille provided information about boccia, which is a Paralympic sport that can be played and enjoyed by everyone.
It is similar in concept to bocce and was introduced onto the Paralympic program in 1984 and today is played in over 50 countries.
A co-ed sport of control and accuracy, boccia is played on an indoor court about the size of a badminton court. Players propel soft leather balls towards the target or white “jack” ball. Each side has six balls (red or blue) per end to try and score points. The closest side to the target ball when all the balls have been played, scores. Boccia can be played head-to-head, in teams of three or in pairs.
The game is played from one end of the court and players remain in their designated throwing boxes during the entire game (either four or six ends).
In competitions, athletes compete in one of six sport classes based on their level and type of disability. There is an Open Class that is for any athlete not classifiable in the BC1-BC5 groups.
Ontario Cerebral Palsy Sports Association (OCPSA) is the governing body for the sport of boccia in Ontario and is also known as Ontario Boccia. Though the OCPSA handle has CP in the title, it is not restricted to those who have CP and it provides programs and services to all abilities for participants in boccia, recreationally and competitively.
During Covid – OCPSA ran the “Boccia Bratz” program virtually. This eight-session inclusive program was led by trained instructors and included virtual training sessions, lesson workbook and equipment kit. A group of families from the Quinte region participated in the virtual program.
This prompted Jules von Cramon, program manager for Ontario CP Sports, Ontario Boccia, and Learning Facilitator for Boccia Canada to contact DeMille to ask if she would consider helping to establish a Boccia Club in the region as she had recently completed NCCP Boccia courses.
“Absolutely, I was interested in supporting athletes of all abilities to get fit, have fun, establish friendships, and pursue personal goals,” DeMille says. “Sports are so important for athletes of all ages and abilities and it is vital that communities ensure that there are opportunities for everybody to participate in safe, welcoming, accessible, quality facilities.”
DeMille said the next step was to schedule a “Boccia Have a Go Day” in June, 2022 at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre and there was a great turnout.
This led to the decision to set up a six-week pilot program that was held at the Hillcrest Community Centre throughout August and September 2022. “We were able to secure a small core group of dedicated athletes interested in playing recreationally as well as competitively on a more regular basis,” DeMille said. “This led to the decision to apply to OCPSA for financial support to rent space at the Loyalist Sports Dome and to acquire use of boccia equipment.”
With weekly practices beginning in January of this year, some athletes felt ready to compete at the Durham Region 2023 Ontario Parasport Games in February. The Parasport Games were first held in 1975 and since then have grown to include more than 500 participants competing in 11 sports. “All our Quinte Boccia Club athletes performed exceptionally well and we won two medals – a gold and a silver,” DeMille said.
Aurora Whalen won gold in the junior open division and Gus Sacrey claimed silver in the senior open division. “I like that everybody can play it and it is just really fun,” Aurora said.
Sacrey said “as an athlete all my life it became very hard for me when I got sick to compete in anything. I could no longer play football. It broke my heart. Then I found basketball and sledge hockey and then I couldn’t play them anymore because I got worse and then I found boccia and I can play that.
“I can compete with my club and my teammates. What is great about boccia for me is that people get to walk or wheel onto that court and shut the world off. They can shut off doctor appointments, surgeries, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, fetal alcohol syndrome, degenerative disk disease, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and being an amputee. The best thing for me about boccia is that I get to be an athlete and when I play with my teammates, I am playing with boccia players. I am getting to play with some of the best boccia players in Ontario and I am playing with some in my club who are going to be the best in Ontario. I look at my club teammates and see them going to the Parasport Games and to wherever this sport can take them because it is not just a sport, it is a doorway, a doorway you can walk through and leave everything awful you are going through behind and for that time on the court you can be an athlete and that is what Boccia does for me and that is why it is important to me.”
After the success at the Ontario Parasport Games, Quinte Boccia Club members agreed to host a Quinte Regional Boccia Competition. Plans were made for the “Open Pairs Boccia Qualifier” to take place on March 26 at the Loyalist Sports Dome. The Ontario Regional Boccia Series is a series of club-driven boccia tournaments across Ontario that are used as qualification for entry to the competitive division at the Ontario Boccia provincial championships which will be held in Waterloo in July.
Soon after registration opened, 18 athletes from various locations in Ontario, some from as far as Ottawa and Niagara, signed up to compete at the Quinte Regional Boccia Competition.
Six athletes – Gus Sacrey, Maggie O’Hearne, Aurora Whalen, Josie McKeown, Colton Bernier and Patricia Hayes – signed up from the Quinte club.
Quinte Boccia Club coaches Grant Montgomery, Riley Andrews and Gus Sacrey are committed to supporting all our athletes to learn, explore their abilities, challenge themselves and identify and work toward personal goals, DeMille noted.
“Our Quinte Boccia Club community is strongly supported by the active, ongoing involvement and encouragement that our volunteers provide,” she added, naming Lesley Montgomery, Matt McKeown, Kristen Whalen and Chris Whalen.
With the end of its first season approaching, DeMille said the club is hoping to grow the sport in the Quinte region next year.
“We are on the lookout for more individuals of all abilities to participate, either recreationally or competitively, next season which is tentatively scheduled to begin in January 2024,” she said. “Our biggest obstacle is the cost of equipment and finances to ensure the continued use of a
safe, accessible, quality facility for our practices. The hard part for us is knowing where, or who, to turn to for help. To date, OCPSA has been supporting us to get established but over time we will require other local sponsors if we are to sustain the sport of boccia in this region.
“We hope to remove barriers to play whether they be physical, cognitive, cultural or economic.”
For this reason, participant fees ($20 annual membership fee to OCPSA) have been kept to a minimum.
Anyone willing to assist to help maintain a boccia program in the Quinte area can contact Colleen DeMille at firstname.lastname@example.org.