Colchester Bocce Club members and titles (top row l-r) Chris Day- Director of Construction, Anton Smith “Topps”- Director of Telephony, Craig Salamone “The Gambler”- Director of Communications & Spelling, Chuck Schroll “Pink Panther”- Chief Compliance / Rules Officer, Jeff Blumberger “Blumz”- President, Frank Ricci “ Frankie Fingers”- CEO, Pat Walsh “Walsh”– VP , Jeff Ward “Wardo”- Director of Photography: (bottom row) Chris Gould “Goldilocks” - Player Safety Officer / Security, Brett Mahon- Director of Officiating, Joe Romanowski “Romo”- Director of Stone Quality: Missing: Rich Santini “The Great Santini” Director of Court Maintenance.
The Colchester Bocce Club (CBC) emerged from the boredom and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Frank Ricci had some extra lumbar and a pile of stone and decided to build a bocce court like he remembered playing as a kid. After a month of manual labor the court was ready, but Ricci asked himself, “Will anyone know what bocce was or even want to play?”
It didn’t take long for Ricci to get his questions answered and just like Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella learned in Field of Dreams — If you build it, they will come.
“I had some extra 2x8s sitting around and that April we had really nice weather. I built it by hand and leveled it by hand,” Ricci recalled about constructing the 60 foot regulation-sized court in the early stages of the pandemic. “My wife said I was out of my mind.’
What started as six guys looking for an excuse to get out of the house has expanded to an exclusive club, consisting of 13 bona fide bocce players with equally impressive personalities.
In mid-July, the CBC was eager to test their skills against other competition and sent two teams (consisting of four players each) to the 47th annual World Series of Bocce (WSOB). The WSOB is the largest bocce tournament in the country — hosted by the Toccolana Club in Rome, NY — and attracts roughly 130 teams for a double elimination tournament across 15 professional courts.
Competing against some of the top players and teams across the country, the new kids on the bocce block held their own and being on the biggest stage further fueled their passion for one of the oldest games in existence.
The CBC’s first official game was a loss to the defending WSOB champs and then they were eliminated from championship contention following a narrow defeat in their second contest. The resilient team rebounded in the consolation round by winning a pair of games.
Not bad for a group of guys that hadn’t heard of, let alone played the game prior to Ricci’s backyard renovations.
The game of bocce or bocce ball is played with a smaller ball, called a pallina, which is tossed and used as a target for the participating players to toss larger balls at it with the goal of getting the larger balls as close to the pallina as possible. The game was first documented in 5200 B.C. with a picture of two boys who were playing. The game was adapted by the Ancient Romans and eventually brought to Italy where it was modernized before the first Bocce Olympiad was held in Athens, Greece in 1896.
Over 120 years later, the game found its way to Colchester and into the hearts of 13 dedicated players. The group meets every Thursday night and sometimes multiple times a week to practice, play, and unwind from the stresses of the outside world.
Ricci’s shed, previously used to house lawn equipment and tools, has been transformed into a player’s lounge equipped with a bar, refrigerator, and even an air fryer.
What once was a horseshoe pit is now the home of the CBC’s official bocce court. Made with pressure-treated wood and consisting of over eight-inch deep of material that comprise the surface.
Prior to the WSOB, Ricci’s home court was topped with crushed stone. However, the surface put the CBC at a competitive disadvantage in New York because the professional courts are topped with Har-Tru, the finely ground material used on tennis courts.
Upon returning from the national competition, Ricci decided his court needed a professional upgrade and re-surfaced the court with Har-Tru. Additionally, he covers the court in calcium chloride to give the surface the proper amount of moisture needed to be true to form and uses an oversized roller used to smooth the surface between games.
A scoreboard, inspired by Pinterest, is the backdrop to the court. The makeshift wooden display features wires holding moveable painted tennis balls to indicate the score.
Several other improvements have been made in the 28 months since the court was first erected and the commitment from the players has become unwavering during that time span. Last year the club did not miss a single month, even playing in through the winter blizzards thanks to a roaring fire pit to keep the players cozy between games and a blowtorch, which Ricci uses to de-snow and de-ice the court.
Games often extend into the wee-hours of the night and Ricci said that over the last year they have seen a Friday sunrise on occasion.
Each of the 13 club members have designated roles and an official title. Ricci a.k.a. “Frankie Fingers” is the CEO and the other dozen have specific tasks and have been dubbed with individual monikers on game worn uniforms.
Brett Mahon is the Director of Officiating. He is in charge of any violations on the court as well as measurements to determine awarded points. Mahon wears a pair of colorful arm bands to make him an “official” official and uses an empty Campbell’s soup can with a string attached for close measurements that can’t be determined by the naked eye.
Bylaws have also been created and typed up. There is also an exclusive group text message between the members to approve any date changes, visitors, or lingering issues.
Like any family, the fun-loving club doesn’t agree on everything and often internal disputes arise. But the club members agree that “drama is half the fun” and any issue can be settled on the court.
Friendly wagers, usually initiated by Craig Salamone, are sometimes made between members. Salamone a.k.a “The Gambler” lives by the saying that you lose 100% of the bets that you don’t make and is known for calling out other members for one-on-one battles.
Salamone said the wagers are all in good fun and added the bocce group is “one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my life.”
Salamone’s sentiments are shared by the rest of the group, all of whom have all come from different backgrounds to become a band of bocce brothers.
Ricci said rekindling a childhood game has been great, but more importantly the group “has forged lifetime friendships and built memories to last a lifetime.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin