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Illinois Parks & Recreation
May/June 1994 Volume 25, Number 3

Americans Newest Team Sport

by Philip Ferrari

What do you think of when you hear the word "bocce"? Little old Italian men tossing balls on a dusty court? For years, bocce was considered the game of Italian immigrants. Today, it has become one of the country's newest team sports and will be featured for the first time in the 1996 Olympic Games. In other words, bocce is coming into its own.

Bocce may be America's newest sport, but it is one of the world's oldest games. The earliest record of bocce was found in an Egyptian tomb dating back to 5200 B.C. Over the centuries, bocce spread throughout the Middle East and into Asia Minor. In 600 B.C. it was picked up by the Greeks, who passed it on to the Romans. Traditionally, bocce has been played by everyone young and old, rich and poor, men and women. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian George Washington who helped unify Italy in the 1860s, was a skilled bocce player. In 1896, the first Bocce Olympiad was held in Athens. Bocce has been a part of international sports ever since.

Over the ages, bocce has changed from a crude sport played with round rocks, or even coconuts, to today's game with composite or metal balls. Bocce also has had many names lawn bowling, nine pins, skittles and pentaque, to name a few and has been played by many rules.

In America, the name of bocce has been on the rise since it became popular in California in 1989. Today, an estimated 1,300,000 people in the United States play bocce. The game is so popular that many restaurants, lounges and clubs install courts for their guests. It has also become a tournament sport carrying cash prizes as large as $40,000. Bocce is part of San Francisco's World Corporate Games, where national and international corporate teams play such recognized games as tennis, basketball, baseball and soccer. Bocce also is an event in the Special Olympics, and will be included for the first time in the 1996 Olympics.

Bocce is played on a level surface. The rules change according to the players and may range from a nearly nonexistent set of rules, to the strictest of tournament regulations. But for the average player, bocce is simple. There may be anywhere from two to eight players on a team. Each player is given two balls (boccia). One team tosses a "pallino" or small ball onto the field. The object of the game is for a team to get its bocce as close to the pallino as possible. The balls thrown closest to the pallino receive points. Players also try to knock their opponents' balls away from the pallino.

As more and more people discover bocce, it has become necessary to make the game more standard. Two associations were created towards this end: the World Bocce Association (WBA), whose goal it is to make bocce available to all interested mature players, and the World Bocce League (WBL), which is for the more serious player.

The WBA will help establish bocce in the 1996 Olympics and in the Special Olympics. The WBA mission is also to create a volunteer program to teach and promote bocce in schools as well as public and private facilities, such as park district programs, retirement homes and hospitals.

The WBL goals are to bring bocce to a higher level of professional participation by seeking out U.S. bocce tournaments and to form a World Bocce League tour for men and women. Bocce is a great game for people who cannot participate in strenuous physical activity, but who like a game with a high intensity level. Bocce players don't need the size or strength that is so important in other sports.

To further encourage the development of bocce, the WBA and WBL have developed a video that teaches how to play the game and are planning to launch a quarterly magazine on the sport. To set up a clinic in your agency or for more information, write to WBA/WBL, 1098 West Irving Park Road, Bensenville, IL 60106, or call (708) 860-BOCE (2623).

Philip Ferrari is the President of the World Bocce Association. *

Illinois Parks & Recreation May/June 1994 35

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