(Tricky shot, pallina on the side of a hill.)
In a Minneapolis park, on Thursdays, a group of friends start to gather. This may not seem unusual or special except for the fact that they have been gathering here in the same spot for more than twenty years. Every Thursday they come together to play bocce ball. Each week anywhere from 6 to 16 people will show up, this last Thursday April 23 rd, 13 people (10 at the start of play) were there including myself.
They first started playing bocce ball sometime around 1975, when a friend with Italian heritage introduced them to the game. At the time several of the players were living in the same house (four-plex) or next door (a tri-plex) to each other and they started playing in their backyard or where ever they could. It wasn’t until sometime around 1988 that they started meeting on Thursdays in the park to play. None of the players can tell me why Thursdays were chosen.
Before the game starts teams have to be decided. This is done by first throwing out the pallina then all the players grab a ball and line up. The call for teams will be made, in this case with 10 players the call was the 3 closest and the 2 farthest would be on the same team and have control of the pallina first. The other team gets to chose the color of balls they want. Then everyone throws their ball at the same time. Some how they always seem to keep track of their own ball. If you come late a coin is tossed to decide your team, heads is red.
They don’t play on a court, they play the park, uphills, downhills, under benches, and over the wood chips around the trees. They play anywhere with the rule that you have to respect the flowers and other people in the park. The rules they play by are the standard rules with a couple slight modifications.
They have a big tournament around the summer solstice known as the Tournament of Roses. Games are two on two with double elimination. Typically more than twenty people will show up for the “big event”. To qualify for the Tournament of Roses you have to play in at least one Thursday game. Trophies are awarded.
Many of these friendships go back 30 years or more. Two of the men that play, Robert and Tim, have been friends since they were in the first grade, 50 years ago. Some of the original players have introduced their spouses and their kids to the game. Dogs are welcome as well.
Tom, a man that the players have gotten to know because he has been walking his dog(s) through the park for abut 15 yrs, knows “spring has sprung” when he sees the bocce players. This year spring sprung on April 9th, when the season opened. The season will last as long as the weather holds out, sometime in October.
Several times throughout the season the conversation of bocce ball as an Olympic sport will come up, “everyone knows it’s more exciting than curling!”
Every game ends with handshakes and “good game” all around. Then it’s back to the lawn chairs for a break before another round kicks off. Records of wins and loses are not kept (officially). It’s just friends enjoying each others company and enjoying a truly friendly, yet competitive, game of bocce ball.
Even though they have played holding umbrellas in the rain and have had some games last into the darkness of night, using flashlights and even the light from cell phones to see the balls, they deny being “serious” or “dedicated” bocce ball players and after playing with them I agree. What they are is serious and dedicated friends.