Stage set for even bigger World Series of Bocce tourney

Published Jul 12, 2017 at 12:01pm

Toccolana Club members Mike Ferlo, David Fiorini and Larry Giardino have come up with the scientific formula to make the World Series of Bocce bigger and better each year.

A record field of 144 teams will look to claim their respected division titles at the 44th annual World Series of Bocce at the Toccolana Club, located on East Dominick Street in Rome.

The weekend festivities will begin with a kickoff party on Thursday at 6 p.m., while the tournament begins Friday at 5 o’clock and will continue through Sunday afternoon, when the championship games will be held.

Over $30,000 in prizes will be awarded over the weekend, including a $7,000 first place finish in the open division and a $2,400 first place finish in the women’s division.

The field of 144 teams will be well represented with out-of-towners, with nearly 40 out-of-town teams making the journey from as far as Las Vegas, Canada, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. There are 105 open division teams and 39 women’s division teams this year.

“It’s definitely spreading,” said Giordano about the popularity of the World Series. “This year marks the most out-of-town teams we have, with representation over 12 or 13 states.”

Gone are the days of word of mouth to grow popularity, but now sponsorship has helped grow the World Series grow into the heritage festival that not only Romans, but bocce players country-wide look forward to every third weekend in July.

Compared to years past, sponsors have come to the Toccolana Club to get their hand in on the popular sport. This year, several new companies will sponsor the six indoor courts and the plan is to have all nine outdoor courts sponsored by next year.

“If it wasn’t for the sponsors, we wouldn’t be able to grow into what we are today,” said Fiorini. “Seven or eight years ago, Mike, Larry and myself put forth to the board the question of ‘Why are we doing this Series?’. We’ve built it into the event it is now.”

The World Series of Bocce isn’t just a tournament, it’s a reunion for locals and a chance for out-of-towners to come and enjoy the amenities offered in Downtown Rome, including the shops and restaurants along East Dominick Street.

“I bet if you looked at the sales tax for the third weekend of July, you’d see an increase,” joked Ferlo. “It’s the biggest event in Rome now and it’s good for the city, not just for us.”

Rome teams swept the titles last year, with Legend’s Sports Bar out of the Open Division and Vacca Financial of the Women’s Division.

Both teams will be back to defend their titles. Legend’s is made up of Paul Louis Jr., Joe Bartolotti, John Rodriguez and Bernie Froio, while Vacca Financial is composed of Joyce Lyman, Joyce Opper, Vicki Adamski and Ethel Remick.

At Thursday’s kickoff party, there will be several skills competitions to get spectators ready for the World Series tournament. All contest times will begin at 6:30 p.m.

The Facciolo Brothers Spock Shot Challenge will kick off the weekend and will award $250 for first place, $100 for second place and $50 for third place. There is a $10 entry fee.

The Carbone Ladies Point Challenge will also be held on Thursday. There is a $5 entry fee and $250 will be given to the first place finisher. Second place will receive $50 and third will win $25.

The Men’s Pointing Contest, sponsored by Worthington, will also feature an award of $250 for the first place finisher, $50 for second place and $25 for third place. There is also a $5 entry fee.

The Turning Stone Resort and Casino will return to sponsor the Rest of the Best tournament, with the winner receiving $500 for the Open Division and $250 for the Women’s Division winner. The Rest of the Best tourney will begin Sunday at 9 a.m.

On Friday, DJ Billy Carmen will get the party going with the live entertainment and for the fourth straight year, the Franklin Hotel will be responsible for the food during the weekend.

Opening ceremonies will begin on Friday at 5 o’clock. Rev. Paul F. Angelicchio of St. John the Baptist Church will give the opening prayer, and several old time members of the Toccolana Club will throw out the first ball.

“We always want to pay homage where it all started,” said Ferlo, making note that there is a wave of youngster teams entered in this year’s tournament. “Never forget your heritage.”

Ferlo added that the cooperation from the city and Mayor Jacqueline Izzo has been a tremendous help in prepping for the influx of people. Last year, there were an estimated 10,000 people over the course of the weekend.

Being a member since the 1970s, Ferlo has noticed a wave of youth and female participants in the sport. He also mentioned that there’s leagues that fill the Toccolana Club nightly and that bocce has turned more into a sport for anyone.

“It’s becoming more popular now,” said Ferlo. “Anyone can play it and a lot of younger teams sign up each year. What makes it so exciting is that anyone can win at anytime. Sometimes, you have a bad day, sometimes you’re on. It’s exciting.”

The important thing for Ferlo, Fiorini and Giordano is to carry on the torch of the tradition of bocce.

They all recall their fathers playing the sport and how they got involved. Their hopes are to pass the torch along to the next generation.

In attempt to do so, the tournament is planned to be live streamed on the Toccolana Club website and the brackets have been published online. There’s also an attempt to promote more social media usage, including radio time on ESPN.