Whether a purist or a novice, playing bocce ball has one key attraction – bringing people together.
The start of the village of Elmwood Park Recreation Department’s Adult Bocce League began July 10 at Centennial Park, 7600 W. Armitage Ave., attracting players of the game along with spectators. It was the start of league competition at the park’s two bocce ball courts, which will last until Aug. 28.
Elmwood Park Deputy Police Chief Andrew Hock showed up to participate as part of the Quattro Formoggi (Four Cheeses) team. He said he’d never played, but did pretty well in the first round of play, the team losing by one point to its opponents.
“I’ve never played, but anybody can do this,” he said.
Mike Ciancio, organizer of the league for the park district, said it’s not about competition, but more about using the facilities and having fun.
Bocce is played with eight large balls and one smaller ball called a “pallina.” There are four balls per team and they are made of a different color or pattern to distinguish the ball of one team from another. The game begins with the toss of a coin to determine who has first toss of the pallina.
The pallina is rolled by one of the winners of the toss and then the bigger ball is thrown as close as possible to it in order to begin play. Each team gets four balls.
Teams score points based on how close the bigger balls they use come to the pallina after everyone on the team gets a throw. The first to reach a designated number of points, usually 16, wins.
Lodean Fisher, 52, who lives a few blocks from the park, remembers growing up watching older men play the game.
“Me and my cousin would watch my grandfather play on 74th Avenue and Diversey Avenue,” she said.
As a child she was just a spectator, but today she is a player.
“It’s just nostalgia because we weren’t allowed to play when we were little,” Fisher said. “The old men would say, ‘Go away, go away.’ It was very intense.”
To some degree, the evening of July 10 play was a bit intense as well, with teammates congratulating each other and oohs and aahs filling the park when a good roll was made.
Elmwood Park Village President Angelo “Skip” Saviano said the game can become pretty competitive.
“Some of these old-timers are very good,” he said.
Mark Mattio, 61, who plays on the All Bocch’t Up team, said he’s played for a few years, but the July 10 tournament was all about coming together.
“Camaraderie — that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “You get out there and give it your best shot. It’s all about having fun.”
And fun they did, with fans of the game bringing out the barbecue grill and snacks while spreading blankets on the lawn and drinking refreshments.
Elmwood Park resident Mike Jaeger, 42, who walked from his home on Fullerton Avenue to the park, said it is nice weather days and events like this that bring the community together.
“It’s great for the neighborhood,” he said. “It makes people talk to each other. A lot of the time people are too busy to get to know their neighbor. Now they can get to know their neighbor.”