Increased local attention and a growing number of sponsorships are poised to make the 45th World Series of Bocce at the Toccolana Club the largest in the event’s history, say organizers Mike Ferlo and Russell Johnson.
Best one yet
“It should be a big weekend,” said Ferlo.
“We’ve got more teams this year than we had last year.”
There are 111 open division teams this year and 42 women’s division squads for a record field of 153 teams. Last year, there were 144 teams.
The large number of participants in this year’s World Series may explain renewed interest in the event, from sponsors locally and nationally. In addition to the return of Budweiser, Worthington Steel, and the Rome Teachers’ Association (among others), the AmeriCU branch of Rome has joined the list of sponsors.
“AmeriCU has sponsored the championship court, number 14,” said Johnson. “And Rome Federal [Credit Union] is sponsoring our trophies this year.”
The growing scope of the event calls for new measures to accommodate the expected crowds, according to organizers.
“This is the first year we’re doing port-a-potties,” Johnson said, noting the Toccolana Club’s permanent facilities are “just not enough to handle” World Series-sized crowds.
The beverage stand will also be expanded. “There’s a truck — they call it ‘Kegzilla.’ It’s 48 feet long, and it has 26 taps on it,” Johnson said, adding that the trucks previously used “had six taps on it.”
“We’re gonna park the new truck along the back wall, we’re gonna create a beer garden, try and contain things a little bit,” Johnson explained.
“It just keeps growing so much.”
World Series officials stressed the support received from City Hall in arranging what they call “the largest private event in Rome.” City departments have provided equipment for seating and for the live entertainment still being arranged.
“The city, in recent years, has gotten pretty involved,” said Johnson. “Whether it’s supplying bleachers, or the stage, or mowing the side lot along the highway.”
Ferlo echoed Johnson’s gratitude. “We’ve been in constant contact with Mayor Izzo and [mayoral Chief of Staff] Larry Daniello. They’ve been really supportive.”
A work in progress
Despite recent success and high expectations for this year’s event, organizers stay focused on learning from experience.
“We’re in July,” said Johnson of the World Series, “but we start up in September. We take August off to get everything wrapped up, and then in September, we’re back at it about what went wrong.”
“I mean, it’s a year-round thing.”
The World Series organizers’ tendency toward self-reflection keeps the event competitive with similar tournaments, say officials.
“We’re the largest paid-out bocce tournament in the east,” said Johnson, “and we keep growing.”
The growth is attributed to measures taken to make the World Series approachable for the casual bocce player, said Johnson, using Sunday’s Rest of the Best tournament as an example.
“A lot of the teams that play here, they’ve never played before, they just want to be a part of the party,” he said. “They’re two games and out. They’ve got no reason to come back on Sunday.”
“So, we give [eliminated teams] the opportunity to sign up to come back in a separate tournament on Sunday morning, and they have a ball,” Johnson added. “They’re just as competitive games as the finals are, because the teams are evenly matched.”
The Rest of the Best, which Johnson says is now in its fourth year, represents efforts by organizers to keep the event growing and to keep casual attendees interested all weekend long.
On the agenda
The festivities begin on Thursday evening with a kick-off party and several sponsored bocce skill competitions, to feature a DJ booth and catering provided by the Franklin Hotel for the fifth straight year.
The World Series begins in earnest on Friday evening at 5 p.m. with opening ceremony to include an appearance by Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo. Following the ceremony are the beginning of the open and women’s divisions tournaments, which will run through Saturday.
On Sunday, the series comes to a close with the division championships set to last into the afternoon.
More than $30,000 in prize money will be awarded to winning teams, with a $7,000 prize for the open division champions and $2,200 for the winners of the women’s division. First, second, and third place cash prizes will be awarded to winners of the preliminary competitions scheduled for Thursday’s kick-off party.
Last year’s open division championship ended unusually, as the two top teams, both from Connecticut, elected to share the combined prize money and get back on the road. The women’s division last year was dominated by local outfits — champion team Vescio’s Franklin Hotel and runners-up Liquor Express both comprised of Romans.
Thursday’s kick-off party will feature several sponsored events to test bocce skills and hype up the crowd for the series ahead. All kick-off competitions are slated to take place at 6:30 p.m.
The Shock Top spock shot challenge will return, offering $250 for the first place winner, $100 for second place, and $50 for third place. There is a $10 entry fee.
The Ladies Point challenge, sponsored by Carbone, has a $5 entry fee and is open only to women athletes. The first place prize is $150, second place is $50 and third place is $25.
The Worthing Steel men’s pointing contest costs $5 to enter. Prizes are $150 for first place, $50 for second place, and $25 for third.
The “Rest of the Best” tournament, sponsored by Turning Stone Resort Casino, begins its fourth iteration at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
The tournament is open to the first 16 teams eliminated from the open division and the first eight from the women’s.