Bocce is more than playing in the dirtRICK LUBBERS: For the past 27 years, the Duluth Bocce Club has quietly inhabited the city’s bocce courts that are tucked between the shadow of Wade Stadium and the edge of the Wheeler Field Athletic Complex.
By: Rick Lubbers, Duluth News Tribune
Boccie, bocci, bocce.
No matter how it’s spelled, this Italian import is always pronounced the same: Bah-chee.
For the past 27 years, the Duluth Bocce Club has quietly inhabited the city’s bocce courts that are tucked between the shadow of Wade Stadium and the edge of the Wheeler Field Athletic Complex.
But unlike their high-octane neighbors — the Duluth Huskies and the city’s rec softball program — these bocce enthusiasts take a decidedly Type B approach to running their league: No colorful uniforms.
No sponsorships from local watering holes.
No multiple-night commitments.
No high-stakes matches.
No trophies that stand taller than a fifth-grader.
No age restrictions. Players range in age from teenagers to folks with grandchildren of the same age.
“You don’t have to be a super athlete to play,” said Dave Campanario, 68, a longtime bocce player and an organizer for the local club.
Or own a Ph.D.
The rules are fairly simple. After a small white ball, called the pallino, is tossed, each team’s thrower attempts to get a ball as close to it as possible. The squad with its ball closest to the pallino gets a point. Each team throws four balls — two per thrower — and so it’s possible for one group to gain four points per end. Games conclude once a team has scored 11 points.
But those simple rules don’t necessarily govern an uncomplicated game.
“It looks real easy, but once you’re playing there’s a little bit of skill involved,” Campanario said.
Sarah Zapp, a 24-year-old former track and cross country athlete at Duluth Denfeld, started playing bocce a few years ago with former high school teammates and is still learning the sport’s nuances.
“Some of these teams have been playing together since before I was born,” Zapp said with a laugh. “Experience definitely helps. We’re still playing on luck.”
Playing at the Wheeler bocce courts, which are 90 feet long by 12 feet wide and have the same dirt that is used on the softball fields, in no way resembles the backyard, barbecue version of bocce.
“A lot of people play at home on their grass, but you have no real control over the ball,” Campanario said.
The Duluth Bocce Club’s 28 teams convene three nights a week. Men play on Mondays, while the women compete on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Twelve weeks of league play are followed by playoffs and modest trophies are awarded to the top two regular season and playoff teams.
“A little bragging rights,” Campanario said.
The self-sufficient league charges nominal fees of $50 per team and $10 per player that help pay for administrative costs, maintenance of the courts and for those modest trophies.
But for most of the bocce players, competition takes second place to the lifelong relationships formed within the club and the chance to enjoy the Northland’s all-too-short spring and summer months.
Campanario and his wife, Denice, have been part of Duluth’s oldest bocce club since its inception and now their two sons play.
“We’re seeing a lot of that now – daughters are playing, sons are playing – which is nice. That will keep it going,” Campanario said. “I enjoy it; it’s a night out. And when the weather is nice, you can’t beat it – like anything outdoors, especially around Duluth. ” Ditto for Zapp.
“It’s our girls night,” she said. “We get out of the house and hang out afterwards. It’s just a good time. ” Campanario invites anyone interested in playing bocce next year to contact him at (218) 724-4643 ordavecampanario@gmail. com.
It won’t matter if you spell it boccie, bocci or bocce, just make sure to pronounce it bah-chee.
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.