Bocce -- it's not just a game played by older men.
"It has a stereotype that I'm trying to dispel," says Peter Rabito, 47, president of American Bocce Club in Huntington. The league has about 50 members in their 20s to 60s, up about 25 percent from last year.
Bocce is somewhat similar to bowling. Players roll a roughly 2-pound ball down a narrow court -- but instead of knocking down pins, players take turns trying to land it as near as possible to a smaller ball (called the pallino). Such a challenge is part of the universal appeal, says Rabito. "Everyone thinks it's the easiest thing to do," he says, but "it's not that easy."
That's because the target ball might be 70 or more feet away. Strategic players might knock one of their opponent's balls off course or aim to hit the pallino away from it altogether. "I think people tend to get hooked," Rabito says. "It's such a great game."
On a sunny Thursday evening, more than 30 people gather in Southampton at four bocce courts. Some squat, pitching the ball low to ground, while others prefer a little loft in the air. There's a healthy amount of clapping, "oohing" and "ahhing" after each ball is rolled -- especially when it cracks against an opponent's.
This is the Southampton Bocce Club, a league of more than 140 people ranging in age from their early 20s to 89. "It's a simple game that anybody who never touched a bocce ball can learn in 15 minutes," says league president Steve Marciw, 84, of Southampton.
Despite the friendly competition, there's a keen attention to detail. At one point, a referee is called to the court. He gauges the distance between two opposing team balls and the pallino with a tape measure. "Sometimes when you look at it, it looks like it's close," says Noris Luri, 75, of Hampton Bays. "But there may be a very tiny difference."
And that difference translates to who gets to 12 points first to win the game. Players earn double points when their ball touches the pallino -- aptly called a kiss (or "bacio" in Italian). It's a coveted move, one that Sal Ficara Sr., 89, of Sag Harbor nailed right after a fellow teammate. The other team? "They couldn't believe it," he says. "They didn't feel they got kissed at all!"
COST $20 per season.
Next season starts May 2013
American Bocce Club
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Mill Dam Park, Huntington
INFO 631-807-4030, americanbocceclub.com
COST $40 per season.
WHERE TO PLAY
Here's a look at a few places that offer bocce and lend equipment.
WHEN | WHERE Dawn until dusk, 198 First Ave., East Rockaway
INFO 516-571-7245, www.nassaucountyny.gov
PARKING Free for Nassau residents, $10 nonresidents weekends and holidays
WHEN | WHERE 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, 99 Quaker Meeting House Rd., Farmingdale
INFO 516-249-0701, nysparks.com
WHEN | WHERE 9 a.m.-dusk through Labor Day, West Shore Rd., Port Washington
INFO 516-869-6311, northhempsteadny.gov
PARKING $15 Nassau residents ($20 nonresidents)
Valley Stream State Park
WHEN | WHERE 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends, 45 North Fletcher Ave., North Valley Stream
INFO 516-825-4128, nysparks.com