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Bocce ball is an oldsters' game easily embraced by midsters

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A recent BW retreat to the Lodge at Riggins Hot Springs afforded us staffers a weekend of rest and relaxation if so desired, or a few days of play, which some of us took advantage of like kids at summer camp.

On Saturday, with the bright sun reflecting off the Salmon River, some of my colleagues headed out on a miles-long hike. It never crossed my mind to bring shoes other than flip-flops so hiking was out. One employee brought his bike. Not only did I not think to bring my bike, he covered more ground in that one day than I do in a month. No biking for me. Some people splashed around in the pool. I don't even own a bathing suit. For the staffers hanging out inside the lodge, poker was the game of choice. I can't remember if a full house beats a straight flush, and my poker face consists of a furrowed brow and a steady stream of "Damn, damn, damn." I don't play cards much.

I don't have great eye-hand coordination either, but an offer to join in a game of bocce ball, playing across the acres of lawn that surround the lodge, was inviting for a couple of reasons: One: it only takes one hand so the other hand is free to hold a cup, can or bottle. Two: with a modicum of practice, the object of the game is easily achieved. Three: it's a game popular with the retirees living in condos in Miami. In other words, it's not very strenuous.

Roughly, the rules of the game are as follows: Regulation bocce (the Italian word for "ball") is played on a court 91-feet long and 13-feet wide constructed with both side walls and back walls (we made do on a swath of manicured lawn). The game is played with eight large, hefty balls, or bocci, and one small ball, called a pallino or pallina. Teams made up of one, two or four people try to get their bocci as close to the pallino as possible. A toss of a quarter can determine who goes first. The team that throws—or bowls—first then stands aside, giving the other team the opportunity to get closer. Whoever gets nearest the pallino stands aside, letting the other team bowl until they either have the closest ball or have bowled all of their bocci. Teams are given one point for each ball closer to the pallino than their opponents. Games are played to 11, 16, 21 or any previously determined number of points.

Tossing the ball across lumpy grass, rife with rises and dips and hidden reserves of deer and goose guano would never qualify my workmates and me for the U.S. Bocce Team. But it did give me an appreciation and affection for this ancient game. Players can move at their own pace, the game definitely engenders a sense of friendly competition and quickly becomes addictive. One of my workmates who found the game as appealing as I did (mostly because she never had to set her beer down) bought a bocce set soon after our return to Boise, and together, we whiled away most of a recent Sunday afternoon in my back yard. The rematch is at her house next weekend.

For more information, visit the U.S. Federation of Bocce Web site at bocce.com

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