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Let the good times roll

Centuries-old lawn game brings Catonsville neighbors together to socialize and compete

Created date

May 25th, 2017
Residents playing a game on the bocce court at Charlestown.

Bocce is a popular pastime at Charlestown where community members can be spotted almost every day of the week enjoying a little friendly competition.

Forget the U.S. Open. The most staunch competitors in the world of sports can be found on the bocce courts at Charlestown, an Erickson Living community located in Catonsville, Md.  

Twelve four-person teams of Charlestown community members meet weekly to compete, socialize, and relax with friends and neighbors over a friendly game of bocce.  

“Each team plays for one hour or until whoever scores 12 points first,” says Tony Ellis, who organizes the league. Tony, former athletic director at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., took up playing bocce five years ago shortly after moving to Charlestown.

“We have a spring-summer season that starts in March and finishes in June followed by a fall season that runs from August to November,” says Tony. “We are pretty low key for the most part, although it can get competitive from time to time. It’s all in good fun.” 

Last fall, Tony taught a Bocce Ball for Beginners class as part of the Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown. Most league participants, including Tony, had never played bocce until they moved to Charlestown. 

That includes Ellie DiPietro, who moved to the community almost four years ago. Although Ellie had never played bocce before, she was an avid tennis player for many years. 

“It’s fun, it’s social, and it’s competitive,” says Ellie. “Everybody enjoys it so much. It takes some skill to try to control the ball and get it to the right place while trying to knock the other players out of the way. We all want to win. Still, we don’t take it too seriously. Everyone is very friendly and there to have a good time.”  

Deep roots

According to the United States Bocce Federation, bocce originated in Egypt as early as 5,000 B.C. But the early Romans were among the first to play a game resembling what we know today as bocce, using coconuts brought back from Africa and later bocce balls carved out of hard olive wood. Beginning with Emperor Augustus, bocce became the sport of statesmen and rulers. It later made its way with Italian immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s. 

The concept is simple. There are two teams of two to eight players. Each player is given two balls (boccia). One team tosses a small ball (pallino) onto the bocce field. Then players take turns rolling to see who can get their ball closest to the pallino. The team closest to the pallino after each player has thrown their balls receives the point.   

“One of the great things about bocce is it can be played by any age and skill level,” says Teresa Reymann-Curran, wellness manager at Charlestown. “It’s a great social sport and encourages interaction with other players through friendly competition. Bocce not only provides physical activity but it also exercises your mind because you have to learn how to develop strategies and hand-eye coordination to score the most points. People who live at Charlestown love playing so much, you see them on the courts almost every day of the week.”

In addition to bocce, Charlestown offers plenty of other opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Golfers can practice their stroke on a putting green. A half-mile-long wooded nature trail boasting nearly 70 different species of wildflowers and 30 species of trees offers walkers a serene place to bird watch. 

For those who like to garden, 10- by 10-foot garden beds are located in the green area outside the community’s Charlestown Square Clubhouse. And a three-acre pond is the perfect fishing spot and racing scene for the community’s Black Swan Model Yacht Club. 

Al Loris and his wife Mary got hooked on bocce 11 years ago when they first moved to Charlestown and helped establish the league. 

“When we first started, we had about 24 people. Now we have double that,” says Al, who cochairs the league with Tony. “It’s nice to get outside and get fresh air and have some fun.”

Bocce makes a comeback

What was once considered a game for older Italian men is quickly catching on with younger generations. In fact, according to the United States Bocce Federation, next to soccer and golf, bocce is the third most participated sport in the world with about one million players in the United States alone. Bocce is also an official sport of the National Disability Sports Alliance and Special Olympics International.