Duo proves bocce is a game ‘for any age’

Published Jul 30, 2017 at 9:00am

“I think that we are proof that this game can be played by anyone of any age.”

Guy Ferlo has been a member and volunteer at Rome’s Toccolana Club on East Dominick Street for so many years, a sign at the front door and plaque laminated inside the bar top bears his name in dedication.

His friend and fellow bocce player, Alfred “Pops” Magnanti, joins him on the court, where they’ve spent countless days playing open bocce and participated in Men’s Division leagues and tournaments.

At age 91 and 93 respectively, the duo may need some assistance picking up bocce balls or stepping into the court, but agree it’s a game “anyone can play.”

Ferlo and Magnanti recently joined teammates Ed Marsh Jr., 59, and Ed Marsh III, 33, in competing in Rome’s World Series of Bocce. It was Marsh Jr.’s second tournament, but Ferlo has been a World Series of Bocce competitor on and off since 1974, only missing a few competitions due to his volunteer work at the club during the series.

A World War II veteran, having served in the Army and achieving the rank of sergeant, Ferlo joined the Toccolana Club in the 1950s, because he “wanted to be a member of a good, outstanding club,” he said.

Over the years, Ferlo has also been a member of the American Legion, the Rome Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, the Disabled American Veterans and the Elks Club. But there’s only one local organization where Ferlo can go, to enjoy his favorite pasttime.

Magnanti recalled the years he began playing bocce with actual stones, rather than the regulation 2-pound green and red balls used today.

“Back during the Roman Empire, they used to play with big rocks,” he quipped. “Years ago, I played at Bell-Isle Park, and down there, there were no balls, just stones.”

Ferlo shared some of the history behind the World Series of Bocce, stating it was back in 1973 when the first game was played at Kennedy Arena.

Rome’s tradition was then moved to Rome Bowling Center on Black River Boulevard. Once the center closed in the mid 1990s, the world series was moved to its current location at the Toccolana Club.

“If it wasn’t for the help of the good members we have in this club, we wouldn’t have a world series,” Ferlo said.

Over the years, the world series has drawn bocce players from several different states and beyond, including Pennsylvania, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and as far away as Arizona and California. Even Canada.

“It’s a four-day event that draws about 1,000 people total, which is fantastic for the community,” Ferlo said.

Marsh Jr., age 59, said he joined the Toccolana Club through a free sponsorship so he could start playing bocce a couple years ago. He and Ferlo’s son, Mike, shared their thoughts about how the array of competitors make the competition.

“The best part of the competition is seeing people and the large turnouts that we draw every year,” Marsh said. “It’s very humbling to see such a large interest in the game.”

“Seeing the people — seeing them once a year and getting to know them, that’s the best part,” Mike Ferlo added.

Ferlo, Magnanti and the Marshes were the actual champions of the losers in this year’s competition. In other words, they were the “Best of the Rest.” Ferlo explained that there was a tournament of the teams that did not get into the World Series of Bocce finals.

Marsh Jr. shared that he sought out the 91 and 93-year-old who are known as legends of the game at Toccolana Club. He then had his son, Marsh III, 33, join the team.

“We figured that the only way to win was to pick up the best bocce players in the club, which is what we did,” Marsh Jr. said.

The team prepared for competition by playing together in open play at the club.

“The strategy is to get to 16 points before the other team does,” Ferlo laughed, as he explained the game down at the courts. He then threw the small ball known fondly as “pallin,” but formally as the pallino, which means “bullet” in Italian. Those who come closest to the pallino with their red and green balls score points.

“It’s a simple game to understand,” Ferlo said. “A team needs two good hitters and two good throwers, or pointers, which our team thankfully has. Ed (Marsh III) is one of the best hitters in the area. The object of the hitter is to hit the point ball out of the playing field.”

Ferlo said the number of women league players and co-ed leagues continue to grow at the club, as well as interest from the younger generation. Organization of a youth league is also in talks, he said.

“A lot of young kids are becoming interested,” Marsh III added.

“We’d have to get equipment to suit younger crowds, but it’s exciting to see a growing interest in the game.”

In the meantime, Ferlo and Magnanti continue to be ambassadors of bocce - a “healthy game” they don’t intend to give up anytime soon.

“Once you watch the game and get into it, it’s very easy — it requires no physical talent or skill,” Ferlo said.

“It keeps your mind active,” Magnanti added. “There’s a good social aspect too.”