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Boccie Bello

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Another generation cometh - and they play boccie with cell phones on their hips. They stood out yesterday like a couple of Euro-chic hunks among the old masters at the annual all-day boccie tournament of the St. Anthony Festival in Little Italy - 29-year-old Filippo Lumaro of Bel Air and 30-year-old Vincenzo Castellano of Perry Hall, duded up and slicked back, playing their fathers' game and beating them at it.

This kind of thing doesn't happen much in boccie. It's thought to be an Old World, Old Guy's game. Guys who look like Italian fashion models aren't supposed to win. Paisanos in Bermuda shorts, guyabera shirts and tube socks are supposed to win.

Some Italian-Americans take the game very seriously and play it regularly on the two courts in Little Italy and on the one under the big shade trees in Burdick Park in northeast Baltimore. Some build 80-foot-long boccie courts in their back yards and practice there. Italian immigrants teach the game to their sons and daughters - basically, you win by rolling your boccie balls closer to a target ball, or "pallino," than your opponent does - but most of their sons and daughters look elsewhere for a sporting challenge. They only come back to the game years later, after they've sprouted varicose veins.

So, from a cultural standpoint, it was noteworthy yesterday that Filippo Lumaro and Vincenzo Castellano teamed with Randy D'Amico and Vincenzo's brother, Antonio Castellano, to compete in the St. Anthony's tournament, their first.

They registered as Team Casa D'Italia Giovani.

Giovani is Italian for "the young ones." This adjective served to distinguish Lumaro, the Castellanos and D'Amico from the two other four-man teams from the Casa D'Italia Boccie Club -Team Uno and Team Due - that competed with 13 other teams for $1,400 in prize money in yesterday's double-elimination tournament.

"All our families are very close, and the old guys play boccie all the time," Lumaro said. "Now us young guys are picking it up and really getting into it. It's an awesome thing to keep that tradition alive."

The other Casa D'Italia teams were composed of elderly and middle-aged men, including the Castellanos' father, Nichola, and Lumaro's father, Gianni. The older guys wore red team shirts. The younger dudes went for designer white T's, smartly cut black slacks and black shoes, a little gold at the neck, and, at the hip, cell phones.

"They look like they could be on 'The Sopranos,' " a woman watching from the east end of the boccie courts observed.

Casa D'Italia One eliminated Casa D'Italia Two - club buddies defeating club buddies in a close match - and then went on to face Casa D'Italia Giovani.

This meant Filippo Lumaro had to face his father - and partner in the concrete business - Gianni Lumaro. In one of the long day's delicious upsets, the young guys defeated their boccie mentors to stay alive in tournament play late in the afternoon. The students beat the masters.

"This is great for the sport, having these young guys compete," said Gia Blatterman, who made some local history herself five years ago when her Team Gia became the first all-female squad to advance past the first round in the St. Anthony's Festival tournament.

Yesterday, Team Gia stayed in the hunt for the $800 first-place prize long into the day, but this year half of the squad was male, with Giacomo Corona and Brian Votta Schwabline joining Blatterman and the grand dame of Little Italy boccie, Rosie Apicella.

Following a time-honored tournament tradition, Apicella wore her knee-highs to a height of no more than 3 inches above her waitress shoes, with a neat roll of nylon just above the ankle. And, as usual, she spent the afternoon between games at the boccie courts on Stiles Street and a festival food booth a block away. Apicella is a legendary salad tosser as well as boccie roller.

"The boccie balls smell like garlic after Rose rolls 'em," Blatterman said.

There were many aromas carried by the breezes that kept competitors relatively cool on the sunny boccie courts - from the kitchen at DaMimmo Restaurant a few feet away, and from the pit beef, porchetta, fried dough and fried calamari stands at the festival.

The aromas apparently became so seductive that one of the boccie teams, from South Philadelphia, missed its call and had to forfeit a game. Asked why the team didn't post, boccie veteran Tony Sansone said, "They went to get something to eat."

Sansone was among those who noted the increased interest in boccie at the St. Anthony Festival. Teams from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware come to Baltimore for the tournament. They wear team jerseys and practice together regularly. And some players compete for different teams from year to year. This has led to a healthy spreading of the talent.

"We have parity," Sansone announced, sounding like Brian Billick speaking of the National Football League. "There are no patsy teams anymore. If you were to ask me to pick a winner today, I could have picked from seven or eight teams."

"And we wouldn't have been one of them," said Wendell Harsanyi, who brought his foursome, called "Doc Guidotti," to Baltimore from Anne Arundel County. They are former rugby teammates of the late Tom Guidotti, known as "Doc Doom" to his pals. He died a few years ago in a car crash. His pals named their boccie team after him. They pay the $40 entry fee every year and compete in the St. Anthony tournament for the fun of it.

"We don't come here expecting to win," Harsanyi said. "But it's great fun, and a great scene."

As for Filippo Lumaro, Vincenzo Castellano and Team Casa D'Italia Giovani - they lasted until the semifinal round, losing to The Family, a team of boccie veterans. No dishonor in that.

"I'm happy we got as far as we did," Lumaro said. "It was our first tournament."

How did his father feel about losing to his son's team?

"He was happy," Lumaro said.

Happy that another generation plays the Old World game.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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