Players Fall for Indoor Bocce

Posted October 23, 2009 at 3:06pm

Devoted bocce players aren’t letting the obstacle of a little unsettled autumn weather prevent them from playing the summer game they love.

Last week, the DC Bocce League, with 325 bocce enthusiasts, launched its first fall season. Now, bocce competition can take place in Washington virtually year-round.

“At the end of every summer season in September, everyone always asks us whether there are plans for a fall season,— said Sarah DeLucas, one of the league’s founders and organizers. “The issue has always been the weather and the daylight, especially when the clocks turn.—

Bocce is an Italian sport usually played on lawns or in outdoor courts. A game begins with a small white ball called a pallina being thrown out onto a playing area. Points are earned when teams toss colored balls closest to the pallina.

Now in its fifth year, the league, a favorite of Hill staffers, normally plays two seasons each year — one in the spring and one in the summer. This summer, divisions played all across Washington: two leagues on Capitol Hill, one league in Adams Morgan and another in the West End.

When played outdoors in the absence of official bocce courts (although, in 2005, the league constructed two official courts on Capitol Hill’s Garfield Park), cones are used to delineate a court five paces wide by 25 paces long. Games played outdoors last until one team gains 16 points, or about an hour.

The move indoors required several large-scale adjustments. First, the league had to find interested hosts. Two locations on Capitol Hill ultimately provided a perfect fit: the Pour House (319 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) and the American Legion Post 8 (224 D St. SE).

Both locations already had good relationships with the league. In previous seasons, the Pour House hosted the league’s after-parties (which it will continue to do this season), while the American Legion served as a place for organizers to gather for drinks after a season finished.

For the next seven weeks, 64 teams of four to six players will gather every Wednesday night to get their bocce fix. Games will run until the middle of December, pausing only for Thanksgiving.

The league also tightened up game times to 45 minutes so that two rounds can be played in both locations.

Regulation courts also had to be made from scratch. League organizers spent a whole weekend chopping, melding and painting two-by-fours together. The finished product was eight courts, measuring 16 feet by 4.5 feet, that can be folded up and down at a hinge. When placed on artificial turf, the courts resemble a miniature golf course.

On game nights, the American Legion’s banquet hall fills with six courts while the Pour House hosts two courts. Throughout the fall season, teams will rotate between locations.

Another hurdle was the bocce ball itself. Bocce balls are normally quite heavy and are crafted with metal or various types of plastic. As a replacement, DeLucas ordered dense, Nerf-like skee balls, which look remarkably like real bocce balls.

At last Wednesday’s games, many players said the new balls, combined with the artificial turf, required using a lighter touch. But many teams also said playing on a flat surface instead of on lumpy ground was an improvement. An added bonus: no more bug spray.

Aside from the cosmetic changes to the game, the league hopes to create an added emphasis on philanthropy this season. Each week, the league has slated a designated charity for players to volunteer for, from wrapping Christmas presents to working with the American Legion on military honor flights, which fly World War II veterans to Washington. In earlier seasons, philanthropy was limited to a donation given by the winning teams.

As always, the league has many special events planned for the fall season — not the least of which includes a week slated for T-shirt decoration.

On the first night of the season, both new and veteran players had to already grow accustomed to the new setup.

“It’s like my 10-year high school reunion,— said Stacey Moore, a player with team Your Bocce Makes Us Hot. “It’s OK, but it’s just different.—

A little discomfort over playing in a restricted space didn’t seem to dampen the overall mood. Indeed, this season, for the first time, bocce can be played without fear of the U.S. Park Police. Last season, there were several close calls with the police, who forced some players to dump out the alcoholic beverages they sipped while playing.

If all goes well, the league would love to make fall bocce a return event.