Daisy Adams, 16, a rising senior at West Babylon High...

Daisy Adams, 16, a rising senior at West Babylon High School, participated in the Babylon Bocce Club teen tournament at Tanner Park in Copiague on June 8. Credit: Tom Lambui

They came dressed for success, in fedoras, in matching pink and white ribbons, in T-shirts repping their school pride. Eight teams of four competitors each clashed at Tanner Park in Copiague on a recent Sunday in a friendly but ferocious takeback of bocce. Yes, bocce, something most Long Islanders think of as a game for an older crowd. 

But, these competitors were not your Nonno or your Pop-Pop. They were Town of Babylon high school students between 15 and 18 years old, and they came to win.

Even if most of them had never played competitively before, if at all.

Daisy Adams, 16, of West Babylon High School, receives her...

Daisy Adams, 16, of West Babylon High School, receives her second-place medal along with teammates from organizer and Babylon Bocce Club member Santo Crocco. Her teamate Sophia DiCiero, 15, of West Babylon High School looks on. Credit: Tom Lambui

“We heard about it during the track season,” says Jeffrey Michel, 17, a discus and shot put thrower and rising senior at North Babylon High School. He was working out pretournament jitters with his team on the morning of the tournament. “So we watched a couple of YouTube videos and practiced on turf," he said. "The goal is a picture of North Babylon with the trophy. But, if we fall short, we will have given it our all.”

The first Tanner Park High School Bocce Tournament took place June 8, organized by the Babylon Bocce Club, founded in September 2021 with 32 members on two old courts by the senior center at Tanner. Just three years later, the club has 441 members — 154 of them female — and there are now four competition grade courts with Har-Tru surfaces and lights for evening play, thanks to a $219,000 investment by the Town of Babylon.

Six leagues play five days a week, and have played more than 1,000 matches so far this year, with '80s rock music blaring from speakers and banter audible from the boardwalk overlooking the Great South Bay 100 yards away. Newbies can try open bocce on Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon

Bocce is an ancient game of tossing balls across a long court that started with the Egyptians 5000 BCE and evolved through the Greeks and Romans. It crossed the pond with the English in Colonial times and surged with Italian immigration in the 1800s. Here on Long Island, it’s a family barbecue activity, or that ancient game that ancient guys play. But that reality is changing as new generations discover bocce, and new clubs and better courts make it more attractive. U.S. bocce teams compete in Europe and hope to make it an Olympic sport.

Babylon Bocce Club founder Santo Crocco, 57, a retired investigator for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, is helping to change the old paradigms, opening access for younger people to something the old Italian guys didn’t always welcome outsiders to.

Crocco has been playing since his parents moved to Glen Cove from an Italian immigrant enclave in Queens in the 1960s. “The Italian guys like my grandfather had a court they used to call The Orchard in Queens, but it was kept by them. You weren’t allowed on the court and you never saw anyone else playing there,” he says.

Ellie Adamson, 7, a first-grader from Bay Shore, plays bocce with her grandmother Joann Proulx at the Babylon Bocce Club teen tournament at Tanner Park in Copiague on June 8. Credit: Babylon Bocce Club

By contrast, Crocco’s son, Nick, 26, plays with his dad all the time. At the high school tournament, he was the demonstrator, introducing a new generation to this simple, yet strategically complex sport, showing them how to roll the pallino, the first marker ball, then throw the other balls — green and red — to get close to the pallino and knock their opponents' balls out of the way.

The high school players got very serious, very quickly, oohing and aahing close balls, biting lips when the tape measures came out, and high-fiving one another for good shots. They played from about 9:30 a.m. to midafternoon and at the end of the day, Babylon High School — the team in the fedoras whose normal extracurricular activity is esports — emerged victorious.

But perhaps the real winner was bocce. West Babylon’s Daisy Adams, 16, a rising senior whose grandmother plays with the Babylon Bocce Club, had a great day with her track teammates who chose this as an offseason activity. She says if the BBC starts a teen league, she and her friends would show up. “We all enjoyed it,” she says. “It was fun having some competition and we would definitely do it again.”

Others, like fedora-wearing Logan Marrin, 18, a graduating senior from Babylon High School, will take the lessons with them.

“I think it should be in regular rotation in gym, because it is a very competitive sport and requires a lot of teamwork,” he says after the victory. “I will certainly be investing in a bocce set to take with me to college.”


Babylon Bocce Club, 631-258-9331, babylonbocceclub.com

Bocce Courts at Tanner Park, 400 Baylawn Ave., Copiague 


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