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July 28, 2011 |

By Amber Williams


Bocce ball tournament offers culture and cash


Bocce ball is a fun tradition at the Italian-American Heritage Festival slated for July 29 and 30 at the east side of the Court Avenue bridge in Des Moines.

In Italian, the word "bocce" literally means, "bowls," but we don't "play bowls," we either "play ball" or we "bowl." Bocce Ball is a unique combination of both but with a few defining and unique differences. The basic idea behind the game is comparable to horseshoes or bags, but with balls.

Gino Cardamone, bocce ball club member and tournament organizer, explains it's about simply trying to come as close to a fixed target as possible — a game concept that is the primitive core of many modern-day games and can even be seen depicted on cave wall paintings that are dated at 5,200 B.C.

"So if you've never played before, you can learn from watching others, and it's easy to catch on," Cardamone said.

It's tradition for the Society of Italian-Americans to sponsor an annual bocce ball tournament at the Italian-American Heritage Festival every year, which is held at the east end of the Court Avenue bridge in Des Moines, on July 29 and 30.

Two tournaments are planned for the festival this year. Friday night's tournament sign-ups start at 5 p.m. with the competition to follow around 7 p.m. It's a doubles tournament, which means teams are comprised of two players. The Saturday night tournament will be four-on-four. Sign-ups will take place all day during the heritage festival, and the games will begin around 6 p.m. A kids' tournament will take place on Saturday evening, as well.

One team uses green and the other uses blue "pointer" balls and aim for the white "pallino" ball in the game of bocce ball.

The teams are always a diverse mixture of men and women, young and old, of all skill levels, Cardamone said. The cost is $40 per (adult) team, and the tournament is limited to 32 teams. Call 515-491-4634 for additional information.

"It's a great mix of people and fun," Cardamone said. "The Italian-American Heritage Festival is a great, little weekend event with great food and great friends. It's a way for people to learn more about the general history and heritage of Italian-American people."

How to play

As with bags and horseshoes, the teams are split evenly on either side of the court. The objective is to throw four red or green "pointer" balls onto the 60- by 8-foot court to get them the closest to the white ball, called a "pallino." Check out to learn more details about the game, the rules and the scoring system.

In the end, cash prizes go to the tournament winner, which, along with the leisurely enjoyment of the game, is usually an alluring incentive to form a team and give the game a try, Cardamone said. CV