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Italy and it’s long history with Bocce

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Bocce is a simple game that finds its roots in ancient Rome and 2,500 years later, it is still popular with people of all ages. Bocce ranks as second, next to soccer, as the great Italian national pastime. In fact, other than soccer, forms of bocce are played in more countries around the world than any other ball game. The game has been played by emperors, admirals, generals, poets, sculptors, scientists and popes.

The name bocce is derived from the Latin bottia, which means boss. From Caesar Augustus to Galileo Galilei, Italians in history have always heralded the sport for its athletic qualities and spirit of competition to rejuvenate the body. It was also thought that playing bocce effectively cured arthritis and rheumatism.

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In the early days of the game, the Romans used stones, but later coconuts were brought back from Africa after the First Punic War. In time they were the spheres from hard olive wood. Italian balls are solid and made of wood or a composite material and sometimes the balls are made out of metal.

Even if there was no official court to play on, Italian men, women and children have enjoyed bocce for countless generations. This 150-year-old photograph taken in a northern Italian village depicts everyone enjoying the sport.

No one really knows how old bocce is. When you think about the simplest game a child can play, that of tossing a stone, it may be that bocce was the very first game ever played. Even the child’s game of marbles is based on bocce.

During the game, a ball is either rolled or tossed underhanded down a long lane with the objective of coming to rest near a smaller target ball which is usually referred to as the pallino. It was the Romans who spread the popularity of the game throughout the Empire, which encompassed vast areas of Europe, Asia and North Africa.

The game in its current form was already well established by the time of the First Punic War began in 264 BC. Roman soldiers played the game in between battles against Carthage. Teams of 2, 4, 6 or 8 men were formed. The soldiers threw a small stone as the leader called a bottia. Then larger stones would be thrown at the smaller one. The stone that came closest would score a point. The game relaxed troops, taking their minds off the stress of war. Since the game was normally played in teams, it was also a means of honing their military strategic thinking as they played.

Umberto Granaglia, the world's greatest bocce player, holds over 70 titles in the sport, a recod that will never be broken.

No one really knows how old bocce is. When you think about the simplest game a child can play, that of tossing a stone, it may be that bocce was the very first game ever played. Even the child’s game of marbles is based on bocce.

During the game, a ball is either rolled or tossed underhanded down a long lane with the objective of coming to rest near a smaller target ball which is usually referred to as the pallino. It was the Romans who spread the popularity of the game throughout the Empire, which encompassed vast areas of Europe, Asia and North Africa.

The game in its current form was already well established by the time of the First Punic War began in 264 BC. Roman soldiers played the game in between battles against Carthage. Teams of 2, 4, 6 or 8 men were formed. The soldiers threw a small stone as the leader called a bottia. Then larger stones would be thrown at the smaller one. The stone that came closest would score a point. The game relaxed troops, taking their minds off the stress of war. Since the game was normally played in teams, it was also a means of honing their military strategic thinking as they played.

This ancient Roman marble dates back to 10 AD, when bocce was played by all members of society, rich or poor and men and women alike, as depicted here.

The game historically was played on dirt courts, a tradition that has stood the test of time. Today, the regulation size playing area is 91 feet long by 13 feet wide. If you wish to build your own court, it does not need to be quite so long. For many, a size that is 60 feet long by 12 feet wide works quite well. To construct a bocce court, build a wooden box to contain the playing surface and install a drain to collect rainwater. Cover the court surface with hardware cloth and fill to a depth of one half inch with Class II base rock. Then cover with a three-inch layer of decomposed granite or a mixture of clay and crushed oyster shells. Complete by adding a quarter-inch layer of oyster shell topping, often called flour and you are ready to play bocce.

Traditionally, the game begins with a coin toss that determines which side tosses the pallino, also known as the “jack.”  The same player who delivers the pallino then rolls, throws or bounces the first ball down the court as close to the pallino as possible. Using balls of a different color, the player on the opposite team goes next with the strategical option of knocking the opponent’s balls out of bounds, or at least further from the pallino.

When each team has played its four balls, a predetermined judge decides which team’s balls are closest and accordingly awards the points of that round. The winning team tosses the pallino in the following round. The length of the game varies, but typically ranges from 7 to 13 points. In Italy, bocce’s popularity spans all demographics. It is considered the perfect activity on a relaxing afternoon!

Bocce has always been considered a game that keeps you young. Pictured is Toby Santoro on his way to win another gold medal in the New Jersey Senior Olympics at age 103. Toby passed away last year at the age of 106.

You can check with your town or county sports and recreation departments to see if there is a public bocce court near you. In Essex County, New Jersey, you find bocce courts in Verona Park in the town of the same name. Branch Brook Park in Belleville features bocce courts, as does Nutley’s Yanticaw Park. Newark’s Independence Park and Vailsburg Park both have bocce courts. A visit to iBocce.com will help you with locations in New Jersey, New York and every other state that has bocce courts. In East Windsor, New Jersey, you can visit Bocce Riviera, while down the shore on the Bradley Beach Boardwalk, there are four bocce courts. Biertuempfel Park in Union Township also has numerous courts. It lists two as outdoor cover lighted courts, two lighted courts and two senior center courts.

Brookside Park in Scotch Plains has one court, as does the South Jersey Sons of Italy Bocce League in Cherry Hill. You need to be a member of the State Lodge to play, but the town also has a public court at Pennypacker Park. Cinnaminson Memorial Park in Cinnaminson, has one public court, while Mayor Edward Clark Park in Bayonne has two bocce courts, the Sicilian Club of Bayonne has two indoor courts. The Ronan-Shirvanian Park in West Long Branch recently added two bocce courts.

In New York, you can look into the Staten Island Bocce Club. The bocce courts are located at the South Beach Boardwalk and the club plays numerous times each week. The Yonkers\Mount Vernon Bocce Club is located in Mount Vernon and has two indoor heated courts. The Toccolana Club in Rome, New York is home to the World Series of Bocce. It has six indoor and nine outdoor courts. There are also countless courts owned by Italian American clubs and organizations such as UNICO, Order Sons of Italy in America and various federations and societies who sponsor local bocce tournaments each year. So now that spring is upon us, go out and join a group, form your own league and have fun!

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