There is no mistaking that summer is upon us. Everyone is out and about, gatherings are in full swing and everywhere you turn someone in the Italian community is talking about bocce.
But what exactly is this game and how do you go about playing it?
After hearing about some very exciting tournaments and heated competitions ending with trophies being awarded along with bragging rights, I decided to do a bit of research to find out more about this time-honored and very Italian sport.
Though the rules are simple, bocce is extremely difficult to master. Great skill and acumen are required to achieve the level of precision needed to compete professionally. The most exciting versions of bocce occur when teams have spent days, weeks, months or even years to practice and prepare.
Courts can be made of grass, fine gravel, crushed seashells or synthetic material. The basic equipment consists of a smaller, target ball, called a pallino, and two sets of four larger balls, colored differently so the teams can tell them apart. Two teams of one, two or four players square off against each other, and the game begins with a toss of the pallino to the opposite end of the court.
The teams then take turns rolling the larger balls toward the pallino, with the team with the ball or balls closest to the pallino winning the round. Play goes back and forth until one team or the other reaches 11 points, with the victor having to win by two points, just like in volleyball or tennis.
While these are the very basic rules of bocce, it is important to note that there are various renditions that could be called regional or even country specific. While researching this topic, I found very interesting concepts attached to this traditional amusement.
First, the technical rules are more complex than most may perceive. There countless techniques for tossing the larger balls, as well as great strategy required in order to win. Another fascinating aspect to bocce is that it has deep historic ties and is not exclusive to the Italian community.
Globally, bocce is recognized as a very serious pastime. Associations are dedicated to preserving the game while disseminating proper practices of how to play. While many cultures will claim that they invented this passionate form of entertainment, I’m willing to state that surely Italians are able to vehemently claim this right. For Roman soldiers, it began as a way to pass the hours in between battles. Yet, it soon blossomed into a pastime that gained global recognition. More than merely a game, an art came to emerge. The creation of bocce balls that were durable, colorful and aesthetically pleasing began to be part of this form of leisurely recreation.
The diaspora of European immigrants saw the interest in bocce grow. Ask any Italian or someone from Latin America or Europe if they know about bocce and you will instantly spark a conversation. Just recently, I encountered an abundance of bocce enthusiasts who speak of this activity with a competitive spirit only rivaled by our enthusiasm of the World Cup.
When I asked them how they feel about bocce, I was fascinated by the stories that emerged. Unlike other sports and activities, bocce has a unique charm to it. There is not only an abiding zeal for the game, but a unifying elegance to it. Bocce offers a connection to our immigrant past, helping us to bridge the gap and keep our traditions alive. Keep your eyes open as you travel through your communities and see if you are able to spot a bocce court. If you do, stop by and hear what these devotees have to say!