By Marjorie Nesin
---- — About 10 Gloucester men, all ripe in age, threw on raincoats and headed down to a newly constructed area at the end of Stacy Boulevard by the tennis courts Friday morning.
Despite the rain, the group was prepared to have a ball — or at least throw one.
The plans for Gloucester’s first bocce ball court were a long time in the making. At the spark of Ann Militello’s idea, a group of mostly Italian men who had gathered on the Boulevard for years began to discuss the potential of bringing in courts. Jerry Ciaramitaro pushed the idea forward to city councilors Joe Ciolino and Bob Whynott, and after two years of the courts living in imagination, the idea came to fruition with the courts opening Friday morning.
“We sat down and we had a bocce summit,” Mayor Carolyn Kirk recalled, with a laugh.
Ciaramitaro provided a diagram of an exemplary bocce court, which was built with no net cost to the city. The city’s Department of Public Works carried out construction work on the courts over about two days. And a local construction company donated the wooden boundaries of the twin set of courts. City officials still hope to line the two courts with six benches.
The game, which finds its roots in Italy, has gained popularity in many European countries, and when Italian immigrants brought the game here to the United States, its popularity spread over the decades to people of various heritages. Councilor Whynott. however, joked Friday about the game’s overwhelming popularity among Italians.
“I’m only half Italian so I can only use one of the courts,” Whynott said.
The smallest ball in the set goes by a number of different names, including pollino, jack, or boccino, depending on which region of Italy your instructor is from.
“The rules are different wherever you play,” Jerry Ciaramitaro said Friday.
One player throws the small ball, then each takes a turn at tossing a larger bocce ball underhand, with the hopes of landing it close to the small target. The group breaking in the court Friday morning also threw in some whooping and cheering, clapping and jumping around.
“It’s good exercise too, instead of just sitting there on the bench,” Sam Nicastro pointed out.
Mayor Kirk tossed a ball that bumped Councilor Whynott’s ball out of place for the winning position in their first game Friday. That is, until Larry Belonte snatched the lead, knocking Kirk’s ball farther from the boccino and taking the winning post.
Councilor Joe Ciolino and Council President Jackie Hardy tossed out balls too, along with about seven others who took turns standing in the packed gravel court to throw their balls.
The players plan to reconvene, hoping for sunnier weather for their first official match Monday at 11 a.m. One has committed to bringing coffee, another will hand out the cookies.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.