Arts & Culture

Ciao Balla

Bocce isn’t just for Little Italy residents anymore.

When Giovanni Marcantoni was growing up in Baltimore, his grandparents, uncles, and dad would play bocce ball in Little Italy. 

“On Sunday afternoons, we’d have a big family meal and play bocce,” Marcantoni recalls. “Even when I was young, no one let me win. My family took a lot of pride in it.” 

In 2010, Marcantoni channeled that tradition by founding a sport and social league with bocce ball at its center. Baltimore Bocce, whose summer season starts mid-July, has also expanded into several other cities. 

“We started in Federal Hill Park with just 20 of my friends,” he says. “Now we have almost 500 people a year playing bocce in Baltimore and more than 1,000 nationwide.” 

He attributes the sport’s popularity to the fact that anyone can play (the league’s age range is 22 to 65) and the game’s simplicity. A team of at least five players tosses one small ball (pallino) that becomes a target. Then, each team tries to get four larger balls (bocce) as close to the target as possible. 

“It was surprising how fast it took off,” says Elliot Jeffords, who now helps run the Baltimore chapter. “People were looking for something more social and less competitive.”