Bocce ball is building bonds

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 12, 2013
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Mike Aderberg and Dan Hoying try out the new bocce ball court in Picnic Point neighborhood park on Saturday.

A new bocce ball court in Picnic Point is bringing neighbors together – one game at a time.

This ancient game, which resembles bowling and involves nine balls, requires skill, strategy and some luck. The game was adapted in Italy into how it is played today.

Picnic Point, just south of Mukilteo city limits, recently added a bocce court to its neighborhood park. Neighbors had a barbecue on June 8 and played a few games to try it out.

They served Italian sausages and red wine, in a nod to the game’s Italian roots.

“It’s a social thing to get together to play bocce, drink wine and enjoy a beautiful afternoon or evening,” said Jim Corbett, who hosted the barbecue. “It’s a lovely setting.”

The private park – not to be confused with Picnic Point Park – also features a pond, path, playground and horseshoe pit.

The court was Corbett’s idea. A 20-year resident, Corbett was inspired by the bocce courts he’d seen at local wineries. He wanted to build community through a bocce court.

After the project was approved by the Picnic Point HOA, he and a team of about 10 neighbors designed and built their bocce court.

“The idea was it would be fun to get a bunch of guys out there in the neighborhood with hammers and drills,” he said. “We would build it to provide a place in the park to spend some time together and enjoy ourselves.”

The team of volunteers worked evenings and weekends – excavating dirt, building the wood frame, filling the base and compacting the surface. It took them a year, and they finished last week.

“It’s not a complicated structure – it looks like a sandbox, but we worked really hard,” Corbett said. “A bunch of old guys out in the park; we broke a sweat.”

As project manager, Corbett researched how to build a bocce court and drew up designs for a 10 by 60-foot court.

In his research, he found that traditionally the surface of a bocce court is made of crushed oyster shells.

“Who knew, right?” Corbett said.

The team decided that if they were going to build a bocce court, they were going to do it right.

They borrowed a neighbor’s truck and drove 106 miles to Shelton to pick up a couple of yards of crushed oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms.

After mixing in some sand, they smoothing out the shelled surface with a plate compactor. They bowled a few balls to test it out. It was perfect for play.

One of the volunteers was Vince Bianco, an Italian who grew up playing bocce with his family.

“When we went to the beach or picnics, we always had bocce ball and we played,” Bianco said. “It’s a great game, and part of my culture and heritage.”

He was about to pitch the idea of a bocce court to the HOA board when Corbett beat him to it.

“That’s how we met,” Bianco said. “We became pretty good friends. The camaraderie of the court brought us together.”

Bocce is very popular in Italy, but its popularity is also picking up here. Public bocce courts are popping up all over Washington, including in Seattle, Woodinville and Bellingham.

The game dates back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, and is closely related to the British bowls and French pétanque.

“The great thing about bocce is it is something that the whole family can play,” Corbett said. “It’s not like some games – even a horseshoe pit – it’s not easy for a kid to throw a horseshoe 40 feet, but they can all play bocce.

“It’s turning out to be a really nice asset to the park.”

Corbett said he’s more than willing to help other Mukilteo neighborhoods set up their own bocce court.

“We could have neighborhood competitions,” he said.

Win or lose, Corbett said Picnic Point is better for having a bocce court.

“This is all about getting people out to enjoy the park and enjoy being neighbors,” he said. “This is what makes it a neighborhood.

“Bringing people together, that was the real vision, and the red wine and bocce is a way to accomplish that.”

How to play bocce

• Divide players into two teams of one, two or four players each. Each team gets four balls. Bocce sets normally have eight balls in two colors, plus a smaller ball called the “pallino” or “jack.”

• A player from one team throws the pallino from behind the foul line into the court. That team bowls first. The player wants to get their team’s ball as close as possible to the pallino.

• The opposing team will then bowl their balls until they have a ball closer than their opponents. Balls are allowed to hit other balls or the pallino.

• From then on, the team that does not have a ball closest to the pallino has a chance to bowl, up until one team or the other has bowled all four balls. At that point, the other team bowls its remaining balls.

• The team with the closest ball to the pallino is the only team that can score points in any frame. The scoring team receives one point for each of their balls that is closer to the jack than the closest ball of the other team.

• The first team to 12 points wins.

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