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Let the good times roll

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

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May 25th, 2017
Community members playing a game of bocce on the bocce court.

The Oak Crest bocce league features 14 teams that meet weekly to compete and socialize.

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

Fourteen four-person teams made up of Oak Crest community members meet weekly to compete, socialize, and relax with friends and neighbors over a friendly game of bocce.  

“It’s a fun, casual game that allows for light exercise and heavy social interaction,” says Oak Crest Wellness Manager Temica Hopson, who organizes the league. “Each team plays one to two games each week for the duration of the tournament, which starts in March and lasts 14 weeks. At the end of the season, the winners compete against members of our Oak Crest executive team, which usually draws quite a crowd.”

Most league participants, like Judy Kimball, never played bocce before moving to Oak Crest. 

“I started playing eight years ago,” says Judy, who moved from Catonsville. “I’m Italian so my family did play when I was younger whenever we had family gatherings in the yard, but it’s totally different when you’re on a court like we have here at Oak Crest.”

Judy says although it can sometimes get competitive, the aim of the game is to have fun. 

“You’re outside. You’re getting exercise and fresh air. It’s fun! And there’s a camaraderie amongst the players. We root for one another,” says Judy. 

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 closet to the pallino after each player has thrown their balls receives the point.  

Polly Carroll got hooked on bocce four years ago when a friend invited her to play. 

“It wasn’t long after I moved to Oak Crest. A friend asked if I wanted to be on a team. I didn’t even know how to play the game,” says Polly. “Now I’m on a team with all women. It’s challenging. You are chasing this little white ball and trying to get as close to it as you can, and the ground is not perfectly smooth, which makes it difficult. But we have fun. You meet new people, and we do our best to keep it lighthearted.” 

The fun doesn’t stop when the weather turns cold. During the winter months at Oak Crest, bocce keeps on rolling with an indoor bocce court made of PVC plastic tubing.

“We wanted to give people that same opportunity to play throughout the winter so we designed a temporary indoor court that can easily be assembled and moved if necessary,” says Hopson. “It takes a little practice to get a feel for the new surface of the court indoors, but most people pick it up pretty quickly.” 

Lots to do

In addition to bocce, Oak Crest offers plenty of other opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, including a putting green, a half-mile walking trail, 10- by 10-foot gardening beds, a greenhouse, and a one-acre pond. 

“The great thing about bocce is almost anyone can play safely and easily,” says Hopson. “The game is especially good for older adults because it incorporates light strength training (due to the weight of the ball), which is great for increasing bone density, hand-eye coordination, and joint mobility.”  

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