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City teams gather at Francis Lewis Park for bocce games

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A dispute broke out between opposing teams at the Francis Lewis Park bocce courts in Whitestone Sunday Afternoon.

Short, stout old men smoking cigars, many of them Croatians and Italians yelling excitedly in their nations’ native languages at a quick clip, could not decide on the score.

A few women were scattered throughout, and a good contingent of men of Hispanic and Asian descent were in attendance, and they, too, got in on the fray.

“Seven to six. They were down one — 6-5 — they scored two points. I saw it, it’s 7-6!” one elderly man in a wide-brimmed white hat yelled, a cigarette between his fingers and his bushy black eyebrows rising almost to his white hairline in frustration.

“No, it’s 6-6. They only scored one!” another elderly fellow shouted, standing on the edge of the court and leaning in to make his voice heard. Spit flew from his lips as he talked.

The woman referee eventually called it for the first man’s school of thought after lingering several moments for suspense: 7-6. Cheers and groans rose and were quickly past, and the two teams resumed their positions at opposite ends of the bocce court.

So went one of many heated yet civil exchanges between the contestants in the city Parks Department’s 16th-annual Citywide Bocce Tournament.

The event, which draws four-man teams from all five boroughs, was the culmination of a year’s practice for those who made it to the later stages of the tournament. It is serious sport, but it is also a fine time for the men who play this game of rolled balls and accuracy.

“To me it’s a great game and it’s about your skills,” said Long Island City resident Ramon Alhay, a member of the Corona Park team. “People like to see us playing because of all the things that are happening in the court: the discussions, the measuring team and when you do a great ball they admire it. That’s the way I see it.”

A total of 75 four-person teams competed this year for trophies, free bocce balls, and a year’s worth of bragging rights over competing squads, according to Eric Wyche, citywide program coordinator for the Parks Department. The department funds the tournament once each year, and pays for, maintains and supplies the courts and equipment at parks throughout the city. Each year a different park hosts the competition.

Whitestone resident John Buzzetti, the coordinator and promoter of bocce at Francis Lewis Park, has been playing the game for 45 years. His father was a tournament player and got his son into the sport at the age of 15. He hopes to keep the game alive and pass it on to younger generations.

“I’m trying to support kids playing seriously. This is a game that carries you on through your life,” he said while standing next to one of the park’s top-notch bocce courts in between matches. “The enthusiasts and the players keep it popular. We have at least 25 to 30 people here every night throughout the year.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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