Bocce ball rolls into Eagle-Vail this summer |

Bocce ball rolls into Eagle-Vail this summer

Debby McClenahan
Community correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily file photoTommy Geary, with team EPS Inmates, throws a bocce ball during last summer's La Bella Festa Bocce Ball Tournament in Eagle-Vail, Colorado.

EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado – The Swift Eagle Charitable Foundation is holding the second annual La Bella Festa Bocce tournament on June 21 at the Eagle-Vail Pavilion in Eagle-Vail, Colorado.

What, you might ask, is bocce ball?

To put it simply, bocce is throwing a ball, called a “rock,” at a target. It’s been around pretty much forever. As you can imagine, even cave men heard about this game.

There is proof that the Egyptians turned it into a sport. A picture of boys throwing polished rocks at other rocks was found in a tomb from 5200 B.C

But how did bocce travel from Egypt to America? The Egyptians passed the game on to the Greeks (Hippocrates wrote of it in 800 B. C.) who passed it to the Romans who passed it to the British and the French. I

It was the Italians, however, who took bocce to the level we know today. First, they tried a number of different kinds of balls (probably because rocks really hurt if someone didn’t know how to throw them). They used coconuts collected on expeditions to Africa in the days of building their great empire. It was during this time that Emperor Augustus (63 B.C. -14 A.D.) declared bocce the sport of statesmen and rulers.

Later the Romans got the idea that olive wood would work well for balls. Today, thanks to the invention of plastic, most balls are a hard plastic composite.

It was not always smooth rolling for bocce. During the Middle Ages, it came under attack. In 1319, Holy Roman Emperor, King Carlos IV, prohibited the playing of bocce, claiming that it took too much time away from archery and other military exercises. King Carlos of Spain made similar edicts and bocce was banned among the clergy of the Catholic Church.

One of the best bocce stories involves Sir Francis Drake in 1588. When informed that the Spanish armada was en route to England, Drake was playing bocce and said that he would finish his game first and then fight the armada.

Bocce began a resurgence in the early 1800s, when Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian folk hero credited with Italian unification, began to popularize it as a hallmark of Italian culture.

George Washington must have heard about it since he built a bocce court at Mount Vernon, but other than that there is very little mention of bocce in the United States until the 1900s. This is understandable, as the huge wave of Italian immigration did not begin until 1890.

One of the immigrants, Chris Gerardo, was from a small town in northern Italy called Lutzano Di Fontanelle. He and his family moved to Pueblo in 1960.

It is said that there are as many variations of bocce in the U.S. as there are groups of Italian immigrants. In 1976, Gerardo wanted to put some order to the sport and see it grow so he founded the United States Bocce Federation, in conjunction with the International Federation in Italy.

There are bocce world championships and one of the goals of the U.S. bocce foundation is to return the game to the Olympics. It was included in the first Olympiad in Athens in 1896.

Today there are bocce courts throughout America, especially in areas with lots of Italian heritage. Bocce is still very similar to the game of 7000 years ago, even when you add some rules, playing courts and modifications in ball materials.

For a team of four players, you need eight balls and a smaller ball called a pallino. The pallino is tossed from one end of the court toward the other and then everyone throws balls trying to get as close as possible. That’s where some scoring and rules come in, but it’s basically a simple game that anyone can play, which is probably why it has lasted thousands of years.

My own family plays it without a court on a big lawn, with beverages in hand. And we’re very flexible with the rules.

You can check it out at La Bella Festa bocce tournament on June 21 at noon at the Eagle Vail Pavilion and athletic fields. Teams of four will compete for cash prizes, including a prize for best team costume.

There will be live entertainment, an Italian dinner, silent auction and lots of fun. Anyone can play and families are welcome.

Swift Eagle Charitable Foundation, a five-year-old grass roots organization, is presenting the event. Swift Eagle has no overhead costs and almost 100 percent of funds raised are passed directly on to Eagle county residents in crisis situations.

For further information, including sponsorship or team entries, contact Ginny Snowdon at 970-949-5279 or

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