Special Olympics athletes compete in district bocce ball and softball tournament

Athletes from across the state are gathering in La Crosse and Onalaska for the district Special Olympics bocce and softball tournaments.

Hundreds of people attended Copeland Park and the Onalaska OmniCenter softball fields for some friendly neighborhood competition.

Celebrating its 50th year, Special Olympics organizers said the program gives opportunities to more than 4 million individuals in 170 countries.

“We have teams from all over Wisconsin,” said Special Olympics coach Samantha Eichner.

At Copeland Park and The OmniCenter, Special Olympics athletes are putting their best throw forward.

One sport, known as bocce ball might require a little explanation.

“It’s like lawn bowling,” said Heather Hansen, a La Crosse Special Olympics athlete.

Eichner said it’s a game of accuracy.

“You have two different-colored balls in sets of four,” Eichner said. “You have a little white ball called the pallino and what you have to do is get your colored ball closest to the pallino. The team that gets the closest gets that point.”

Hansen said no matter how a team performs, it’s about coming together to have fun.

“Have a good attitude and help the other team too,” Hansen said.

Everyone tries to lift up each other’s spirits.

Hansen said there’s a goal for every team.

“We are having one of our tournaments here to see if we can make it to state,” Hansen said.

She said a positive mindset is key to team success.

“The atmosphere is good and the attitudes are really good with us,” Hansen said.

Working together, one throw at a time, they found a way to came out on top.

“I am proud of them,” Hansen said.

Eichner said it’s about including everyone.

“It gives everybody a chance to be involved, whether it’s softball or bocce ball,” Eichner said.

Even if the ribbon isn’t first place, she said their smiles never hide.

“They can get that ribbon or they can get that medal, even if it is a participation, there’s smiles on their faces and you know that means a lot to them,” Eichner said.

She said the organization has had an important place in the hearts of many people for 50 years.

“You can be involved in something so special,” Eichner said.