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Your grandfather’s favorite sport has a new generation of players – and you can join the action.
In 2004, Philly native Sarah DeLucas joined a kickball team with her friends in Washington, D.C. “We wanted to be a part of a social sport, but kickball wasn’t right for us. Other players took it way too seriously. We brainstormed backyard games and decided on bocce. From there, we formed the DC Bocce League.”
The league became so popular, DeLucas quit her job in 2010 and made it her full-time career. In 2011 it expanded to Philadelphia. Renamed Major League Bocce, it now has divisions in 12 cities in the United States.
Bocce evolved from a game played during the Roman Empire and developed into its present form in Italy. Popularized by Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the sport has been a mainstay in Italian neighborhoods like South Philadelphia.
Two teams meet on a 50-foot by 12-foot rectangular court. The starting team then throws a small white ball called a pallina to the far end. Each team throws four heavy bocce balls toward the pallina with the goal of getting closest. Teams score and contest results and repeat the process until the winning team scores 14 points. A regulation game lasts between 45 minutes and an hour.
“Bocce is what we’re doing,” says DeLucas, “but it’s not the most important thing we’re doing. The rules and programming of Major League Bocce are an effort to make it social.”
Dogfish Head Beer sponsors the league and offers specials at every event. Some say bocce is best played while holding a drink.
With an average player age of 33 years old, Major League Bocce welcomes all players older than 21. The sport attracts a diverse crowd of people from all ages, genders, backgrounds and ethnicities.
“Players need not be an athlete, be physically fit, or have any prior training. You can be good at bocce having never thrown a bocce ball in your life. Almost anybody, anywhere can play it,” says DeLucas.
“But,” she cautions, “people get into it. It gets competitive!”
Major League Bocce in Philly
Major League Bocce operates for four seasons around the calendar in Philadelphia—once a week for six weeks, followed by two weeks of playoffs. Over 500 players roll in the fair-weather months. In fall and winter, the league moves indoors.
There are five divisions at five locations in Philadelphia. In South Philadelphia, teams form at Jefferson Square in Pennsport and at South Bowl on Oregon Avenue. During registration, interested players can join as free agents or form a team with a minimum of five players. At the end of a season, the five best teams from each division compete in a citywide tournament.
Registration for summer teams will open in early June, and play will begin the third week of July. Interested parties should check philly.majorleaguebocce.com and click on the registration tab to find a location. The registration fee is $50 outside early bird or late registration periods.
“It’s a fun thing to do, and one of the best ways to meet people in Philadelphia,” says DeLucas. “More people sign up every year. It’s exceeded expectations in every way. ”