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Saturday Night at the Bocce Court—and the Old Ladies Win!

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It was a best-of-three-game match. And the winners were…the team of Mom and Grandma, “out-aging” their young, former Division 1 college athlete opponents by two to one. That’s how I spent this past Saturday night, competing in a hoot of a game that is great for people of all skills and ages—bocce, on the boardwalk at the Jersey shore. Not too much skill required…not too much strength…not too much concentration—but plenty of room for competitive fun and laughs.

If you aren’t familiar with it, bocce is a cross between lawn bowling and horseshoes. The goal is to get your colored bocce balls closer to the “jack,” or target ball, than your opponents’ balls. For history buffs, bocce dates back more than 5,000 years to the Egyptians, but it’s modern form is credited to Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general and nationalist who popularized the sport in Italy in 1896. I think the game’s simplicity is what has given it the power to last through the ages—who doesn’t want to hit a target?  That’s why Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam installed urinals with a fly etched into the bottom—men can’t resist aiming at the fly and the floors of the bathrooms remain far cleaner. But I digress.

I had watched the old Italian men at the Jersey Shore play bocce at these courts for years, and it was always a very boisterous affair. The four to eight players were joined by their wives and mothers, who came just to watch and “kibbitz”, as they say in Yiddish. Everyone had an opinion, all shouting in glee or angst when a great shot was made. It was like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, only the Italian version.

Last Saturday, a group of 16 people were playing in the court next to us (four men playing and 12 spouses and friends watching), all debating whose ball was closest (even using a tape measure they brought with them) and celebrating the points for each round.

Actually I never thought of bocce as being so much fun. When I was a middle-schooler, my father “dragged” me to the bocce courts. That was when I thought pretty much any family activity was “stupid.” But somehow, playing with a view of the ocean on a beautiful summer evening was just the right amount of postdinner activity for our group ranging in age from 23 to 85. Frankly, we were originally going to play miniature golf and then decided to bring out the bocce balls, since the courts were closer. (I was glad—I don’t care for miniature golf. It always starts out fun, but somehow by the fourth or fifth hole, the tedium sets in as the strong players make the holes in one to three shots and the weaker players get tired of their strings of fives and sixes.)

So here’s how it went. Two teams—old ladies (my mom and me) versus two young athletes (my daughter Callie and her boyfriend, Wes).  I had played bocce a few times…my mom had done it a few more times. Callie had never played, and while she is an amazing athlete, throwing balls has never been her strength. Luckily, Wes excels at every athletic endeavor he attempts.

My 85-year-old mom was the best player among us. An ex-softball player, she was the lead on our team because she is amazingly accurate. My role was the “spoiler,” which is a polite way of saying that I aimed to push the other team’s well-placed balls farther from the target. This was our secret strategy. Wes’s high lobs were incredibly accurate with a back spin that stopped them right where they landed. Callie got better with time, making some amazing shots of her own…but on more than one occasion, the whole game was rearranged by just one good shot to the center of the pack. Bang—the jack ball would be moved, and suddenly balls that were long shots were suddenly front and center. Just like in so many places in life, everything could change in just a moment.

Mom and I were slow to get our form together. Wes’s power accuracy overpowered all of us, including Callie’s wild, giggle-filled rolls.

Game 1 final score: Youth 12, Age 5.

But as the evening moved on, mom and I honed our strategy. On multiple occasions, when it looked like Wes and Callie would earn several points, mom and I would drop a shot that spread their balls and replaced them with our own. Timing and patience were on our side and, yes, some luck, too.

Final score for the match: 5-12…12-10…12-11. And the old folks won!

Since I can’t write a blog without some life lesson in it, I will simply say this. Youth and strength have its advantages, but in the end, it was the classic slow-and-steady that allowed us old ladies to win the match. We moved at our own pace in our own way, and we maintained our focus when youth was ready for their postdinner snack. Mom and I were ready for a snack, too, but we had years of experience waiting just a few more minutes to get what we wanted because we had to tend to something or someone else.

Patience is a virtue. And the postgame ice cream was delicious. I will say, however, I am a little nervous about the rematch—these two competitors don’t walk away from a loss so easily. Next time will be a whole new fight.

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