Brisbane primary school’s bid to boost boccia and inclusion for students with a disability

Brisbane primary school’s bid to boost boccia and inclusion for students with a disability
  • PublishedDecember 8, 2023

Sam Thorne knows what its like to watch from the sidelines with no option for inclusion, but it’s a fate the 17-year-old is ensuring others don’t experience. 

Sam has “near-complete quadriplegia” and is on a ventilator.

They have teamed up with a Brisbane primary school in an attempt to include boccia in the interschool sport competition so students with and without a disability can compete side-by-side. 

student in a wheelchair pushes the boccia down a ramp
MacGregor State School students with and without a disability play boccia together.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

MacGregor State School’s head of special education, Jessica Kanowski, said introducing the Paralympic sport boccia has encouraged a “team atmosphere” amongst the students.

“The children really have their eye on the prize,” she said.

Boccia is one of the fastest-growing and most inclusive Paralympic sports, according to Boccia Australia.

“[The students] love that they are able to play alongside all of their friends,” Ms Kanowski said.

young girl in school uniform looks at camera
Year six student Jiahang Liu says boccia is “exciting”.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

Year six student Jiahang Liu said “versing each other” in Boccia was “exciting”.

“Our team often wins,” the 12-year-old said.

The primary school wants to bring the “inclusive” sport to other schools.

Queensland schools compete against each other in almost weekly interschool sport competitions.

Seven boccia balls with a group of students in the background
The primary school wants to bring the “inclusive” sport to other schools.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

Students not involved in the tournaments are offered alternative programs at their schools.

MacGregor State School year 6 teacher Leanne Harvey said it means students who didn’t play “traditional sports” often missed out on opportunities to play in a team.

As an alternative program to interschool sport, about 200 students each term from the primary school in years four to six have been learning how to play boccia.

Woman smiling at camera
Year six teacher Leanne Harvey has been helping teach the students how to play boccia.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

The sport focuses on accuracy and strategy as players aim to throw leather balls as close to a white ball, called the jack, as possible.

Ms Harvey said the primary school students were hesitant about the game but the “competitiveness” quickly grew during the matches.

“It is an inclusive sport where all children have access to it,” she said.

‘Output for my athletic side’

Queensland and national boccia champion Sam Thorne has shown the students how to play.

Ms Harvey said Sam’s tips and hints were “enriching for the students and the staff”.

The 17-year-old, who graduated high school this year, said there were no options for them to join a sport at school.

ball on ramp near person in a wheelchair
Sam Thorne showing others with a disability they can be included. (ABC News: Sarah Richards)

Instead, Sam sat in the classroom during interschool sport thinking, “I could be playing boccia or practising right now”.

As a young child, they had always played sports until they developed a rare neurological condition called transverse myelitis, which inflamed the spinal cord.

With Sam’s only movement left in their right leg, they use it to push boccia balls down a ramp.

“It’s given me an output for my athletic side,” they said.

Sam, hoping to compete in the Paralympics, said they only became aware of boccia from a physiotherapist.

“It’s very important boccia gets into schools, particularly for inclusion purposes,” they said.

‘Fun’ sport for all students

During the game at Macgregor State School, fellow students would help Melampus Petrogiannakis, who has cerebral palsy, position the ramp so that when the ball goes down it, it would go as close as possible to the target.

Melampus, who is in year four, said his favourite part was pushing the ball down the ramp.

student in a wheelchair
Boccia is one of the fastest-growing and most inclusive Paralympic sports.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

Lucas Huang, who has a physical disability that affects both of his legs, said he enjoyed learning “new strategies” in the sport.

“It is pretty fun,” the 11-year-old said.

A student and teacher prepare to push a boccia ball down a ramp
Year four student Melampus Petrogiannakis said the best part of the game is pushing the boccia balls down the ramp.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

For year 6 student Winston Sun, he likes how “everyone is able to play.”

“No matter if you are short, tall, you have a walking stick, or you are in a wheelchair, you can all play,” he said.

Inspiring future Paralympians

The Brisbane primary school hopes to “branch out” boccia and bring the game to other schools.

A Queensland Education Department spokesperson said interschool sport programs reflected the school and local community’s needs and opportunities.

“The school would be collaborating with schools within their district interschool competition to provide the sport as an inclusive offering for all students,” the spokesperson said.

man smiling at camera
The school’s sports teacher Mick Austen says bringing boccia in schools could inspiring future Paralympians.(ABC News: Sarah Richards)

The school’s sports teacher and sports coordinator, Mick Austen, is working on a proposal with Ms Kanowski to bring the Paralympic sport to interschool sport competitions next year.

“It’d be nice if it can happen, just as another opportunity for kids to be involved in sport but also representing the school,” he said.

Mr Austen said that evaluating a sport like boccia can also inspire future Paralympians.

“Most kids’ dreams start when they’re at school, so it’s got to start somewhere,” he said.


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