Local bocce players score with community service

I thought it was really cool when the county constructed bocce courts at Ronald Reagan Park. In the spirit of cultural diversity, I loved the gesture to recognize the first nationality to introduce cultural diversity to our continent - the Italians.

For those not familiar with bocce, it's an Italian form of bowling that dates back to the Roman Empire.

I thought it was even cooler when I got an e-mail from Andy Mason in Duluth telling me about a bocce league in his neighborhood. His neighbor, Scott McCawley, built a regulation size bocce court in his backyard.

"What was just a leisure activity has now blossomed into a full-fledged neighborhood league complete with a championship trophy," Mason said. "We have seasonal dues that have now added lights and seating to the court that rivals that of our community swim and tennis area. In addition, this is a wonderful family activity."

I attended their 2008 bocce tournament and really connected to what was going on. It was like growing up in the 50s. Every Sunday night, 16 families get together just to have fun. No shop talk. No networking. Just a bunch of guys competing on the courts, women socializing as they set out their specialty dishes and 30 some kids having fun.

"For me Sundays are a stressful day, getting ready for the week, but this, getting together with our wives and kids, calms me down," Derek Hoover said.

I asked McCawley what inspired him to build his court, which rivals the ones at Ronald Reagan Park.

"With a name like McCawley, you must be Italian on your mother's side, right?"

"No," he said. "I grew up in South Florida and a friend's grandmother who emigrated from Yugoslavia had a court in her backyard. I remember how much fun we had and wanted a court of my own."

OK. An Italian sport inspired by a Yugoslavian grandma. I love it. But the diversity doesn't stop there. This league, whose only two Italian members, Tom Marchiando and Warren Gambrello, were both surprised to see bocce alive in the south, is called the Shawnee Indian Bocce Club.

"So how did Native Americans get involved?" I asked.

"It's the name of our subdivision," Mason said. But this cross-cultural community spreads even further.

"This year the Shawnee Indian Bocce Club is looking to take it to the next level and reach out to the community and adopt a needy family for the holidays," Mason said. "We'll be providing gifts and clothes and Christmas dinner, just like any church or civic organization would do."

The Shawnee Indian Bocce Club is hoping to someday compete with other bocce leagues in the metro area. But in the meantime, maybe the best way they can join forces with anyone concerned with the concept of community is to inspire others to keep the ball rolling for those in need, no matter what their ethnic background.

Even, and maybe especially, Yugoslavian.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.