The ancient sport gets a modern (and hoppy) remake.
Forget aqueducts, concrete, or event the concept of a senate. The Romans, best known for their alphabet and the film Gladiator, were serious about their balls. So serious, they created a game specifically for them: bocce.1
The game eventually rolled away from Roman dominance to continents across the globe. Now a game once played by Roman statesman and even Galileo has arrived in Richmond in the form of an official bocce league.
“It’s an old Italian sport,” said Anne-Stuart Teter, organizer of the Richmond division of Major League Bocce. “But we have kind of revamped it to be a more social sport.”
Whereas other social sports like kickball, dodgeball, volleyball, and others (many of which River City Sports & Social Club organize) are more competitive and athletic, bocce is more for casual, laid-back players.
The game of bocce is as complicated2 (PDF) as it is grueling. Not very. “I think the easiest way to explain it: there are two separate teams. You start out with a small ball, called a pallina, which is about the size of a golf ball. And each team takes turns throwing their respective balls toward the pallina, which ends up being your target. And whoever is closest to the pallina gets the points.”
The game ends when a team reaches 16 points or, if there is no team with 16 points, the team with the most points after 45 minutes of play wins.
Here’s a quick video tutorial of the game:
While living in Arlington, VA, Teter played in DC Bocce and even became one of the league’s “Black Shirts” (a volunteer).
When she told the group she was moving to Richmond, DC Bocce organizers wondered if she’d carry the sport with her down I-95. “They asked me if I thought that bocce would be successful in Richmond,” she said. “I said absolutely. Richmonders love their social sports.”
Teter reached out to Erick McKay of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, to whom she had a family connection, to see if the brewery would be interested in sponsoring the new Richmond league.
Although Hardywood already provided corn hole boards on its premises, Teter said “they were looking for another activity for people to do while they were hanging out there, and bocce ended up filling that gap for them…you can hold a beer and hold a ball and you’re good to go.”
“This is the first brewery-sponsored chapter in the history of Major League Bocce,” Teter said. “It’s a social sport. Hardywood is a social place…two peas in a pod.” As part of Hardywood’s sponsorship deal with the local bocce league, the brewery built a full-sized bocce court.
The league debuted on May 14th with eight teams. Its inaugural season concludes on June 25th.
Teter hopes to increase the league to 16 teams at the start of the new season. To accommodate the new teams, Teter said the league will expand its Hardywood footprint. “We’re going to do a temporary court behind the [Hardywood] warehouse where will just mark off the court with cones…which we’ve done up in Arlington, so we know that’ll work just fine,” she said.
Teter said the new league has already proven popular. “The first game that we played I just had so many people come up and say, ‘Thank you so much, this is awesome.'”
While Hardywood reserves the bocce court for league games, which take place on Wednesday nights, brewery visitors may play on the court at all other times when the brewery’s open. Teter said that accessibility should help grow the league. “Just being there and kind of playing while the brewery is open, we’ve had so much interest just from that, that I think that that’s really going to carry us over into the next season and seasons beyond this.”
To welcome newcomers to the sport, Richmond bocce league volunteers will be at Hardywood on Friday, June 13th from 5:00 – 9:00 PM to answer questions about bocce and lead rounds of play. Teter hopes the event will give would-be players a taste of how much fun the sport is. “Come play some bocce, drink some beer, and enjoy yourself,” she said.
photo courtesy of Major League Bocce Richmond