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Vail Valley: Bocce ball background

Debby Olsson McClenahanCommunity correspondentVail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily fileTommy Geary, with team EPS Inmates, throws a bocce ball during a past La Bella Festa Bocce Ball Tournament in Eagle-Vail.
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VAIL VALLEY, Colorado -The Swift Eagle Charitable Foundation is presenting the third annual La Bella Festa Bocce Tournament on June 27 at the Eagle-Vail Pavilion. Last year’s event attracted over 100 participants who competed for cash prizes and enjoyed an afternoon of fun. There are still openings for both players and sponsors for the event. Bocce is an ancient game that some claim is the world’s oldest sport. That is a distinct possibility because the essence of the game is simply throwing a ball at a target. It’s easy to imagine that even cave men played it to relax after a big day of mastadon hunting. There is proof, however, that the Egyptians turned it into a sport: A picture in an Egyptian tomb from 5200 B.C. shows a group of boys throwing polished rocks at a target rock. Bocce has had a long journey from Egypt to the United States. First, the Egyptians passed the game on to the Greeks. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, wrote about it sometime around 400 B.C. Then the Greeks passed it on to the Romans, who passed it to the British, Italians and the French. It was the Italians, or Romans, to be precise, who took bocce to the level we know today. First, they experimented with a number of different kinds of balls, probably because rocks hurt if thrown incorrectly. Coconuts, acquired on the Roman Empire’s expeditions to Africa, were a favorite in the early years. Later they got the idea that olive wood would work well. Today, thanks to the invention of plastic, most balls are a hard plastic composite. Bocce began a resurgence in Italy during the early 1800s, when Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian folk hero credited with the unification of Italy, began to popularize it as a hallmark of Italian culture. His efforts to spread the popularity of the sport seem to have been successful as George Washington, first President of the United States, built a court at Mount Vernon. Then, in the late 1800s, there was a huge wave of Italian immigrants to the U.S. and they brought their game with them. Famed for their demonstrative enthusiasm, the Italians produced as many variations of bocce in America as there are groups of Italian immigrants. One of these immigrants, Chris Gerardo, was from a small town in northern Italy called Lutzano Di Fontanelle. He and his family moved to Pueblo in 1960. In 1976, he tried to put order to the sport and founded the United States Bocce Federation, in conjunction with the International Bocce Federation in Italy. The U.S. Bocce Federation is now affiliated with the two international bocce organizations that host the world championships and promote bocce on an international level. Bocce was included in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 and one of U.S. Bocce Federation’s goals is to return it to the Games.

Bocce continues to be very similar to the game of 7,000 years ago, with the addition of some rules, playing courts and fancy ball materials. Each person on a team of four has two balls to throw toward a smaller target ball called a pallino. To start the game, the pallino is tossed from one end of the court toward the other. Players take turns trying to land their balls as close to the pallino as possible. That’s where some scoring and rules come in, but it’s basically a simple game that anyone can play. 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 the La Bella Festa Bocce Tournament on June 27 at the Eagle-Vail Pavilion and athletic fields. Teams of four will compete for cash prizes, one of which is a team prize for the best costumes. 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 is presenting the event. Swift Eagle is a local, grassroots organization whose mission is to swiftly assist Eagle county residents in crisis situations. The foundation has minimal overhead and all funds raised are passed on directly to people in need. Sponsors of this year’s event are First Bank, Colorado Business Bank, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Boles Construction, Gourmet Cowboy, Ace Hardware, Eps Design & Print, Pier 13 Liquor, Riverwalk Wine & Spirits, LionsHead Liquor, Eagle River Water & Sanitation, The Vail Mountaineer, The Vail Daily, NRC and KZYR.For further information, including sponsorship or team entries, contact Ginny Snowdon at 970-949-5279 or vhsnow@aol.com.

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