Bocce: The Old School Game Finds New Life With Young Adults

Major League Bocce is giving the sport a youthful update. This is bocce like you've never played it.

Glo bocce

A Glo bocce game. Photo provided by Major League Bocce.

The North End is known for its Italian culture—and we’re not just talking about the food. Nestled among the gelato shops and pasta restaurants are courts for playing bocce, a game that has been popular in Italy and other European countries for centuries (the game’s origins actually trace back to ancient Rome). On any given day, North End residents and neighborhood tourists alike can be seen on the courts for hours, united by the little-known but well-loved sport. And now, the game is promising to hit the mainstream in Boston.

If you’ve never played bocce before, the age-old game, which is played in teams, starts by throwing a small ball (a pallino) onto the court to serve as a target. Once the pallino is placed, players toss two-pound balls (called bocci) at it, with the goal of coming as close to the target as possible. Points are then awarded to the team that came closest to the pallino. The game is more about accuracy and patience than flashiness, and is thus often associated with, shall we say, the older set. But Major League Bocce‘s new “Glo Bocce” league is setting out to change that.

Major League Bocce—which, contrary to its name, is a social sports league, not a professional organization—came to Boston last year after being founded by a group of friends in Washington, D.C. back in 2004.  “We wanted something a little more casual and low-key than some of the other options, like softball and kickball,” Rachael Preston, one of the league’s cofounders, explains. “One of the reasons we founded a bocce league is we feel bocce is accessible to people of all abilities.”

But when Preston and her cofounders brought the league to Boston, they soon found that New England winters and early sunsets made it difficult to start playing after-work games in early spring. Their solution? Glo Bocce, which will be played on the Common in April and May using glow-in-the-dark balls. The league encourages wearing glow sticks and sipping mid-game drinks, too, so rest assured, this is not your grandpa’s bocce.

Preston says she recommends bocce, Glo or not, to young professionals looking for a fun, casual way to unwind after work or make friends, but that the beauty of the game is that anyone can play. She notes that the league is low pressure (every team makes the playoffs, and no prior bocce experience is required to join), affordable, and easy to play since the game is more about honing accuracy than having inherent athletic skills. “It’s accessible to people of all kinds of skill levels and physical abilities,” she stresses. “It’s a really good fit.”