Saturday, November 23, 2013

Adaptive Bocce in Massachusetts

The Italian game of bocce is a fun, versatile and inexpensive sport that can be adapted for play by people with disabilities. Long known as an intergenerational pastime in Italian communities, it is especially favored by older men as a way to enjoy long afternoons. Bocce can be played anywhere balls can be rolled out on flat ground or on standardized courts. Official rules can be simplified for easy play with kids. A set of bocce balls can be purchased for as little as $25.

This year I've been exploring ways to play bocce and how it can be adapted for people of all abilities. I took a bag of the eight colorful and hard bocce balls and the small white one known as a jack to my neighborhood swimming pool and initiated informal games on the lawn, where curious kids jumped in to play. I also played it with friends indoors seated on a large rug which defined our court. If you haven't played bocce it is definitely worth getting to know this game! 

Adaptive bocce at an established court
 in E. Longmeadow.
The game starts with the jack being rolled out into the designated court, then two people or teams take turns trying to roll their balls closest to the jack. Strategy comes into play as attempts are made to knock the other team’s balls away from the jack. If the jack gets moved, either accidentally or intentionally, the scoring value of the already played balls will completely change. At the end of the round the team with the closest ball to the jack win a point for each ball closer than the other team. In informal play, teams can vie for the first to reach a selected score or to see who is ahead at the end of a designated number of rounds.
Bocce is a wonderful community activity, allowing for social time and picnicking in the vicinity of the game. The game is easy to grasp, and whether one relies more on skill or luck, bocce offers both the chance to relax and the chance to compete. 

DCR's bocce court at Carson Beach.
Outdoor bocce courts can be found wherever Italian communities thrive. In Massachusetts there are public courts in Boston and Springfield. Most are not wheelchair accessible unfortunately, but the court at Carson Beach in Boston is easily accessed by wheelchair and balls can be rented from the adjacent DCR offices. Nearby you’ll also find some built-in chess or checkers tables with seating.

In Longmeadow, near Springfield, I visited an adaptive bocce game taking place at the Senior Center this summer, where a group was enjoying a game on a hard-packed dirt court. 

For those who have difficulty throwing a ball accurately, a large PVC pipe was used to guide the “throw”. This adaptive technique still requires the use of strategy to position the tube and release the ball. If an assistant is involved, communication becomes key between the two team players. Bocce develops players’ abilities to aim, gauge distance and weight, be accurate, strategize, and be part of a team.

This past spring I attended a boccia workshop at the US Paralympic Training Center in Colorado taught by Jeff Jones of BlazeSports. Boccia is the official adaptive form of bocce and is played at an international level. It is the only Paralympic sport in which people with severe physical disabilities can compete. Usually the athletes have cerebral palsy or another neurological condition that requires wheelchair use, such as stroke, traumatic brain injury or multiple sclerosis. In the 2012 London Olympics, 104 athletes competed in seven medal events. Boccia is played indoors with a softer ball and competition can be quite fierce. For a glimpse into boccia, visit YouTube.

Currently there do not appear to be any boccia teams in New England and there is no formal adaptive bocce team network that I have found. The closest boccia team is in New York. It seems that there is potential to open new ground if anyone would like to develop another adaptive sport in Massachusetts!

Bocce and Boccia Resources

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