Waxler wants to get the bocce balls rolling

Rich Waxler is looking for some folks interested in playing a new sport.

"It's a Columbia-type of sport," he said, partially in jest. "It's competitive, but it's not that physical."

It's bocce.

Never heard of it? Well, you just don't live in the right place.

"I bet bocce is as big as volleyball in the world," Waxler said.

No, actually, it's bigger.

The United States Bocce Federation claims that bocce has more participants than the top two sports (soccer and golf) and that it is the world's oldest known sport. Step aside field hockey; step aside golf. What those shepherds were really playing while watching their flocks eons ago was bocce.

Waxler, a Columbia resident, is trying to start a bocce league. He's consulted with a league director in Key West, Fla., where bocce is huge. There are 10 courts and over 1,100 people in the Key West Leagues.

"It's become a recreational pastime for the people who work down there," Waxler said.

At first glance, the game is simple and has elemental reminders of bowling, curling or horse shoes.

Bocce is played on a court made of finely crushed stone with teams of up to four people.

There's a small target ball called a pallino (or jack). The pallino is tossed onto the court first.

The bocce balls themselves — traditionally maroon or green — weigh a bit over two pounds each. The teams roll the balls toward the pallino, trying to get the inside position on their opponents' ball, so strategy is involved.

Waxler has a home-made measuring device — a plastic drinking cup with a string attached — to use in determining which ball is closer. It's cheaper than an official measuring devise and just as effective, he says.

The team with balls closest to the pallino score points. One round of shots is called a giro.

The first team to 12 points wins the game and the team that wins two of three games wins the match.

Games are self refereed and Waxler is going with a simpler set of rules rather than the professional ones where you have to call your shots.

He said he was introduced to bocce by his wife Louise's Italian family nearly 38 years ago. He has played off and on since then.

"I'm certainly not a pro at it and I haven't played for several years," he said.

Waxler has had the idea of starting a league for a number of years; he's just now getting around to it.

The game is played in Little Italy in Baltimore, but Waxler found a bocce site closer to home.

Cedar Lane Park has two bocce courts, which were built as a Boy Scout project. And the county's department of recreation and parks has indicated that it is considering building three more courts at a different county park.

What Waxler needs are players. He's thinking 32 players, age 14 and older, would be a good start and would give him eight teams. Bocce is a friendly sport for the handicapped.

Following a day of instruction, Waxler would like to start the league in mid-September with the teams playing in the evening. There would be a fall session and a mid-spring session.

The cost would be $30 per individual or $100 for a team of four. This includes equipment use, court rental and both the spring and fall sessions.

"Bocce is good for the mind, good for the body and good for the soul," he said.

If interested in joining, call Waxler at 410-992-7711.

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