Some historians claim bocce dates back 7,000 years when the Egyptians
played it; the Romans picked it up from them. In simpler days, there
wasn’t an Italian picnic or family gathering that didn’t include a bocce
game. A piece of string measured the distance to settle any rule
disputes. All ages can play and today, many senior citizens continue to
participate in the game for relaxation and exercise.
Bocce Leagues in Little Italy
Joe Scalia, 89, lives across the street
from Little Italy’s bocce courts on Stiles Street and continues to play
the game. As originator of the Little Italy Bocce Rollers Association
(LIBRA), he began the first league in Little Italy and the start of the
tournaments held during neighborhood festivals.
“He’s the godfather of this game,” said Gia
Blatterman, coordinator for the Tuesday and Wednesday night league. “His voice, his
connections … the rest is history. If it were not for Joe, we wouldn’t
be here today.”
Gia remembers watching the men from the
neighborhood play bocce when she was a little girl.
“They wouldn’t let us play,” she said about
the men and the game that socialized the community.
Years later, she helped to form Team
Gia, the very first all-female team in Little Italy, with friend
“It’s just a wonderful night,” said Gia
Blattermann of the Wednesday night league which is “less about
competition and more about friends coming together for a friendly game.”
Although LIBRA has since dismantled, two
current leagues occupy the courts: The Little Italy Bocce League
on Tuesday and Wednesday nights as mentioned, and the Italian American Bocce
League on Thursday nights, coordinated by Dino Basso.
As a young lad, Dino used to watch his
father play bocce ball behind Gwynn Falls High School with a group of amici from “the old country.” Every evening, said Dino, “me and my
cousins were screaming and hollering.”
As an adult, he began the sport around 1979
in his backyard, competing with his two brothers and brother-in-law. It
wasn’t long before his five children and the 12 grandkids joined in for
a bocce family affair.
“Playing with the kids doesn’t matter if
you win or lose,” said Mr. Basso, 72, a retired bricklayer. “We’re about
getting people involved. Anyone that plays the game really likes it.”
Now with three great grandchildren,
it’s not uncommon that Mr. Basso’s family roots for his bocce team –
which includes his daughter, Santina Maria Shetterly, as a player. The
Bassos sit along the red, white and green painted benches in the courts
in the heart of Little Italy.
The courts, owned by Baltimore City Department of Recreation & Parks,
were completed in 1994, and moved from a prior smaller location on
President Street near the old pumping station. The court is named after
a former mayor of Baltimore, and Little Italy resident, Thomas
D’Alesandro Jr., father of Nancy Pelosi,
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
The city provides utilities at the bocce
court site, and through an agreement with the city, the two leagues
voluntarily maintain them and provide materials and labor for upkeep.
The courts are diligently raked and watered, divots caused by rain are
removed, lines kept freshly painted and the stone dust leveled – optimal
for a good roll.
Rosie is in her 80s, lives on Fawn Street, and knows all about the game she’s been
playing for most of her lifetime. She’s “one of the better players”
boasted Dino about his beloved teammate in her standard bocce garb:
pedal pushers, waitress shoes and rolled-down nylon stockings.
As president of the Thursday League, he
mentioned the late Robert Marsili as being instrumental in establishing
it with him in 2007.
Bocce games and tournaments are a
good draw for local restaurants and other neighborhood businesses. A
long-term activity in Little Italy, the pastime continues to offers
residents and visitors camaraderie and a sense of community.