Hundreds more American Special Olympics athletes will soon be bowling their way to bocce bliss following a decision by Special Olympics Florida to purchase 28 new portable playing courts to help grow the game across the state.
Special Olympics Florida Vice President of Operations Akin Joseph said the courts, which arrived last month, had been impressive at their debut at the Area 8 Summer Games in Tampa.
Inflatable 'Packabocce' courts, first developed in 2013 by Packaworld International, feature a lightweight but highly durable design that makes them far more portable than traditional bocce courts made out of wood or stone.
Mr Joseph said Special Olympics Florida had previously used roofing gutter rails as court walls. Setting up three or four courts using this system took more than three hours to set up.
"In Tampa the new Packabocce courts were set up in next to no time with little to no volunteer stewardship. Everything looked uniformed and really good."
Alex Gara, president of Packaworld's US distributor the American Bocce Company, said Special Olympics bocce was growing at an explosive rate and administrators were crying out for a new kind of court that could be easily transported to wherever it was most needed.
He said the competition courts were also accessible for the mobility-impaired, via a built-in gate, ensuring athletes in wheelchairs or using walking frames did not have to miss out.
In Special Olympics basketball, every state plays with proper equipment. In bocce, a lot of games are played on makeshift courts made of 2x4 planks, PVC pipes or no courts at all. When athletes go to the state games, they aren't used to playing in real-game conditions.
"I think Special Olympics Florida has shown outstanding vision and judgement in recognising the value and coming up with an innovative way to provide for its community."
He said Packabocce courts were "the future" for Special Olympics organisations, and coaches and athletes with access to Packabocce courts were "thrilled" by the opportunity to use professional courts. Other US Special Olympics chapters using Packabocce courts included Arizona, Illinois and Pennsylvania, he said.
Mr Gara was recently recognised for his contribution to Special Olympics with a 'Maggiano's Hero' Award from Special Olympics Illinois. His company uses the smaller 'recreation' sized Packabocce courts in its flourishing social leagues across the USA, and has provided more than 100 volunteers to support Special Olympics over the past four years.
He said receiving the award was 'a real honour', and he and many other volunteers felt their lives had been enriched by contributing to Special Olympics sport.
"I think we have drawn a lot of inspiration from the Special Olympics in that we search for ways to build communities and influence lives in a positive way through friendly competition.
"Special Olympics does this on an exponential level. They change the way athletes see themselves, and their athletes play bocce the way it should be played."
More than 200 Packabocce courts are now in use across the USA, and they were used as the court of choice for the Latin American and Asia Pacific regional Special Olympics tournaments.
Packaworld International is working to make the joy of sport real to more people through relentless innovation - and a touch of madness. With a little help from Packaworld, people around the globe are finding new places to play the sports they love, from football on the streets of Panama and rugby on the fields of California to bocce on the high seas.
"Sport improves lives, builds healthier, more inclusive communities and enables positive relationships across different cultures and classes," says Packaworld CEO Peter Roberts. "Using new technology, we can help people smash the barriers that stop them from playing, bring the game to new locations, and create sporting experiences where they would not have been possible before."
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