[caption id=”attachment_3949” align=”aligncenter” width=”641”] “Everything on the day of the tournament, from the high energy welcome, to the baked treats, to the responsible and eager volunteers, ran like clockwork,” says Special Olympics Ontario Four Corners Project Coordinator.[/caption]
Two weeks ago, Kevin Bouwers, Principal at Providence Christian School (PCS), watched “a community of grace” take shape. On October 3, his school hosted the Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) Four Corners bocce ball tournament.
To welcome the 120+ bocce players to their campus, PCS students arranged themselves into a long “High- Five Line,” cheering loudly as the teams arrived.
As the day progressed, PCS Promotional Consultant, Susan Huckins, was struck by the spirit of joyful hospitality exemplified by PCS students and staff. “The students and teachers at Providence just went above and beyond,” she says. “They had banners that they had made. Cards for the athletes to sign. The reception line was amazing. The cheering never waned. They just went all out.”
Thursday’s bocce tournament brought several communities together, inviting local teams from the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board and schools like Ancaster High and Westdale to experience the Special Olympics event. Students were blessed by the tournament on a number of levels—taking delight in the beauty of a diverse community, and learning from teams who embody SOO’s commitment to good sportsmanship, leadership and fair play.
For PCS students, getting to know young athletes with intellectual disabilities also served as an opportunity for them to build sensitivity and respect for those who are different, says Huckins. In a society where self-focus is prized above all else, she sees that kind of interaction as a sort of “detox process” or “reset button” for youth today.
Special Olympics Ontario exists to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for people with intellectual disabilities. What began as a small program for local athletes has become the world’s largest movement dedicated to promoting respect, acceptance, inclusion, and human dignity for people with intellectual disabilities, through sports.
In partnering with SOO, PCS students and athletes could walk and talk together in “a spirit of shalom,” says Kevin Bouwers. Students became both servants and leaders, contributing to “a small corner of God’s big Kingdom.”
SOO Four Corners Project Coordinator, Kristin Bobbie, described the support and dedication of PCS staff and students as “a true testament to engagement, volunteerism and faith in action.”
“In two seasons and twenty-plus events with the Four Corners program we have yet to see anything quite like it from a host school,” she says. “Everything on the day of the tournament, from the high energy welcome, to the baked treats, to the responsible and eager volunteers, ran like clockwork.”
Broadly speaking, Bobbie also sees the tournament as “an affirming and positive example of social integration at its absolute best.”
Currently, Special Olympics Ontario, along with the wider Special Olympics movement, is starting to channel more of its time and energy into “Project Unify”— an education-based project that empowers young people, through sports and education programs, to foster respect and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. As a way of moving forward with the project, SOO plans to organize more bocce competitions and develop additional bocce focused curriculum resources.
“In watching the events unfold on Thursday, our staff couldn’t help but comment out loud that without even intending to, that Providence Christian School had unwittingly become a perfect example of how that project should unfold in the future within Ontario,” says Bobbie. “What an achievement.”
The tournament’s positive impact is likely to leave a lasting impression in other ways too, presenting OACS schools with a number of compelling questions to ponder. For example, how might faith-based learning form new links between communities that identify as Christian and communities that don’t? How might partnering with an outside organization urge students to show love to people that they might otherwise have trouble relating to? How might frequent expressions of active, culturally engaged learning shape the future of Christian education in Ontario? If these questions resonate with you, or you have more of your own to add, visit the OACS Advancement group on the eCurriculum site to join the discussion!