NILES – The end of summer marked the end of outdoor adult bocce leagues in Niles, Girard, Howland and Youngstown.
However, thanks to 8-year-old Christina Groves, the game continues as a new generation of participants has been created with a children’s league at Sons of Italy in downtown Niles.
“It was Christina’s idea to have a pétanque league for children,” said his mother, Monica Belmaggio Groves, owner of Sons of Italy with her husband, James.
“I saw everyone playing and I was like, ‘I want to play'” Christine said.
In the mixed league for 5 to 12 year olds, many children organize a recess imported from Italy with some of their ancestors.
Laura Biamonte’s 6-year-old son Luca is learning to play the game she plays in the Sons of Italy adult league.
“I like petanque. It’s in our blood. I’m glad he’s learning to play. said Biamonte.
Petanque is a ball sport. A game is made up of two teams, usually with two members per team. Teammates have the same color of balls to throw. Whichever team throws first, that player throws the pallino, a smaller white ball that is the target at which bocce balls are thrown – or thrown. The balls closer to the pallino than the nearest opponent’s ball score points. Each side has four colored balls to throw, and individual players throw two balls per game. If there is a question which team ball is closest, a tape measure decides the distance.
The Mahoning Valley leagues have regulatory courts. They are 90 feet long and 13 feet wide with wooden barriers surrounding them, allowing balls to be thrown at the walls for strategic moves. The ground is asphalt or clay, but professionals prefer sand, crushed stone or oyster mix.
The pitch is raked to make it smooth as the players step on it and the rolling of the balls affects the surface and the movement of the ball on the playing area.
There are many opportunities to play pétanque in the area. There are women’s leagues, men’s leagues, competitive leagues, charity matches and mixed leagues.
“This year was the 10th Annual Carmine Cassese Memorial Bocce Tournament”, MVR Tournament Organizer Darren Landis said.
Money raised in honor of the former owner of Cassese’s MVR includes a scholarship to Youngstown State University and pancreatic cancer research. The restaurant has been playing pétanque there since 1978.
The one aspect of the game that makes it appealing to all ages is that there’s no strenuous running or tackling – just bending over and throwing.
Randy Manley maintains the bocce courts at Howland for the SCOPE league. Manley’s father, Matthew, joined the league a few years ago.
“He’s our oldest player at 93 and one of our best players,” Manley said.
Belmaggio Groves said she became aware of pétanque at home.
“We played pétanque on the grass in my father’s yard,” she says.
Everyone who plays petanque has positive reasons for doing so.
Rosemary Tice of Niles has been playing in the Girard Tod Park league for six years. It perpetuates a family tradition.
“My grandfather had a petanque court at his house” she says.
Some of the pétanque players are former colleagues and playing in the league gives them the opportunity to continue socializing.
“I retired from Packard and then started playing,” said Mary Anne Justice.
Sharon Gilmore is also a retired Packard Electric worker who plays in the Tod Avenue Bocce League at Girard.
Matthew McGuire of Niles plays in the competitive Sons of Italy league. His father, Mike, and his brother, Michael, also play in this league. But, his reasons for playing are not so serious.
“I play for fun and to get out of the house” he said.
Gianni and Alta Roberts de Niles play in the new bocce league, carrying on a tradition from their parents, Adrian and Jay.
“I play pétanque and my grandfather did it” said Jay Roberts.
He sees it as an opportunity to pass the game to the next generation.
“My father, Tullio Belmaggio, gives good petanque advice to the children’s league. It transmits the knowledge of the game to the youngest players,” said Belmaggio Groves.
She offered a six-week initiation to pétanque league for young players which recently ended and is planning a league for teenagers next spring.
And although the outdoor children’s league ended in October, the indoor petanque will begin shortly. Girard’s Foyer Fraternel Italien (FIH) launched its fall league in October. The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society in Lowellville started their co-ed league in October and it continues into winter 2023. Their next leagues will start in late January/early February.
As petanque player Keir Macmillan of Niles says, “Petanque never stops here.”
And anyone can play.