Playing bocce has helped James McMullen learn to trust again.
The Ferntree Gully resident plays bocce with Melbourne Eastern Ranges, which is part of the Special Olympics Australia network. This community volunteer club trains people with an intellectual disability in their chosen sport, including bocce, basketball, netball, swimming, ten-pin bowling, athletics, and tennis.
Last October, James competed at the National Games in Launceston with Team Victoria, which brought home 81 medals in bocce. The game challenges competitors to roll a bocce ball closest to the target ball or pallina.
“You get to learn new skills, meet new people and it’s just a fun thing to do outside of work to socialise,” James says.
“I’m not one to come out and open up but the more I come to bocce the more I start to trust people. I’m more of a person who keeps to myself and don’t really like to talk to people in big giant groups, but understanding that there are people out there who do actually care and are there to support you has made a difference.”
James would love to coach one day, passing his skills on to others and helping other young athletes.
“No matter what disability you have, all you can do is really try your best and if you want to play bocce the coaches are always willing to accommodate you and help you the best way they can to make you feel supported,” he says.
“You get to learn new skills, meet new people and it’s just a fun thing to do outside of work to socialise.”
Special Olympics recently received a $10,000 grant from Council’s Community Development Fund. Over the past five years, this Council grants program has provided over $1.5 million to Knox-based community organisations.
Special Olympics coach and Melbourne Eastern Ranges vice chair Michael Migliaccio says he is proud of all that James and the other players achieved at the National Games and also of the training that they attend regularly at Knox Italian Community Club in Rowville.
“Our Melbourne Eastern Ranges bocce group has grown from seven to 22 athletes since 2017 and we have a few more that want to join during 2023,” Michael says.
“Bocce helps people develop their confidence. It’s a non-strenuous game, it’s a target game and it’s fun. It’s about learning new skills and helping people come out of their shell and have a good time. It’s not only about ourselves but it’s also about the team. When you have a competition, if there’s somebody who can’t lift the ball off the ground, you’ve got to help pick it up for them.
“I love being their coach. It just gives me joy when I’m with them and to see their smile when they achieve their goals whether big or small.
“At the Nationals, James made me very proud because he helped everybody else as well — the whole team was fantastic. That’s what it’s all about in the Special Olympics.”
The Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Berlin from June 17-25, 2023.
Come and try bocce or other sports for three free training sessions. Contact sports coordinator Theodora Niakolas on 0407 848 607 or [email protected]
This article was originally published by Knox City Council. The article was provided by Michael Migliaccio and written and authorised by Knox News April edition, Knox City Council, 511 Burwood Highway, Wantirna South VIC 3152.