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Bocce brings out bowlers

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Sports fans of all ages gathered at Juniper Valley Park Saturday as dozens of people took part in the city's annual bocce tournament.

Sixteen two-person teams played the popular Italian game during the 14th annual competition. Dozens of people converged on the park's bocce courts and cheered and booed their favorite teams all day.

"I think it's a very good sport. It's fun and it keeps the old timers busy," said Ted Olezweksi, 79, of Woodside, who was catching the action with his wife, Mary.

The tournament was played in all five boroughs and culminated in a championship in Staten Island Sunday.

In a bocce game, players bowl small wood or stone balls from one side of a sandy field to another and try to get them as close as possible to a smaller white ball, known as the pallino. The team with the balls closest to the pallino are awarded points and the first to rack up 12 points wins the game.

Bocce was first played in Italy, but the sport remains very popular in Europe overall. Croatia native Nevio Babic, 58, of Maspeth, said the sport has many followers in the United States due to the large number of immigrants living in areas like Queens.

"There are a lot of European people here and they're retired," he said. "That's their sport."

Hollis resident John DiMeo, who has been participating in the tournament since its introduction by the city Parks Department, said the competition has gotten bigger over the years, with players who are determined to bowl to the top.

Although many of the participants shout and jeer at their opponents, DiMeo, 44, said the games provide players a place to bond.

"It's enjoyable for the competition and it's great getting to know people that you play with," he said.

The longtime bocce player added that the sport holds a special place for residents of Italian descent, because it gives them an enjoyable way to keep their family culture alive.

"The younger generation doesn't really embrace it. A lot don't speak the language anymore," DiMeo said of his Italian heritage. "This helps them embrace it."

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 6:40 pm, October 10, 2011
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