Richie DiFranco loves bocce. DiFranco grew up playing the game, and has coached the Orange County Special Olympics bocce team in several local and state tournaments.

Now DiFranco is spearheading a new public bocce league in Chapel Hill, which kicks off this spring at Community Center Park. (Intrigued? You can sign up here.)

Bocce has pretty simple rules. The basic gist is this: each team has to roll bocce balls closest to the target ball, which is called a palina. It’s a game that all ages and people of all athletic abilities can play – but it’s also strategic and social.

A decade ago, DiFranco moved to Chapel Hill from Washington DC, where he started the first bocce rec league.

“In Washington, DC one of my favorite aspects of the league was that groups would come up with extremely creative, groan-worthy pun names for their teams,” he says. “The creativity displayed was astounding, and I hope that tradition continues!”

We interviewed DiFranco about the game and about the new league in Chapel Hill.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I live in Chapel Hill with my wife Gabriella and three children – Mateo (13), Liliana (10) and Marco (7). We have lived in the Ridgefield-Briarcliff Neighborhood for 10 years, and have a great community of friends and family, including my three sisters and their families and my parents.

I work for the Town of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation division helping Colleen Lanigan in support of the Special Olympics program as well as running this bocce league. I have coached several Special Olympics teams and have taken our Orange county bocce team to several local and state tournaments.

Bocce’s awesome! How’d you get the idea for starting a league?

Bocce is a sport that my family has played for as long as I can remember. Every family function featured a spirited bocce match (and prosciutto, and really good bread). And growing up in Cleveland, OH public bocce courts are a common sight at every park. As an adult living in Washington, DC I missed bocce so much that my friends and I started DC’s first Bocce Rec League. That was in 2004, and the league is still in existence today.

I love how Bocce brings people of all ages and abilities together. It can be as competitive as the finals of Wimbledon or as casual as a stroll on the beach. I wanted to help spread the joy of the game in Chapel Hill. I recently became an employee of the Town of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation and when I brought up the idea of a public bocce league, the town was incredibly supportive in making it happen.

Where are the two town courts located?

Bocce Ball Courts

The bocce ball court is located on the grounds of the Chapel Hill Community Center Park, near the Learning Garden and Plant Road. Request the key to the equipment box from Community Center staff.

The league will take place at the Chapel Hill Community Center Park at 120 South Estes Drive. There are two courts located there that we will use.

You’re an experienced bocce player yourself. How’d you get into it? What do you like about it?

As I mentioned, growing up in an Italian community in Cleveland, Ohio, all of the local parks had bocce courts. When many kids were playing baseball or football, I was on the bocce courts learning from more experienced players. I have continued to play into adulthood and still travel the U.S. playing in competitive national tournaments. I love the competition, the community and the intensity of tournaments.

Some people think of bocce as a casual game with a glass of wine in your hand, which it can certainly be, but it can also be extremely competitive with significant prize money for top tournaments. I love all of it. At its most competitive level, it’s a game of angles, strategy, control and precision, much like billiards.

If people want to get started playing bocce, what should they do?

Come out and enjoy the courts or find a patch of grass and play with your family and friends. You only need a set of bocce balls to play. There are some at the Community Center park that you can use, or ask around in your neighborhood to see if anyone has a set. You don’t really need anything else to get started, just a willingness to have fun. 🙂

The Chapel Hill Spring Bocce League is for people aged 16+ of all abilities. Register to join the fun or just come out and watch the action. We will be playing on Tuesday nights at the Community Center Park from April 9th – June 11th. For more information, click here. Get a group of 4-6 people together, or just sign yourself up and you’ll be matched with other people. It’s a great way to meet new people from all walks of life, get some steps in, and relax in nature. No expensive equipment needed!

The rules of bocce are very basic. You will learn them quickly and be able to start playing right away. I also love that you can converse and socialize while you play.

Is bocce an all-ages activity?

Absolutely. All ages and all levels of fitness. I started playing at a very young age and I still see great players well into their 80’s and 90’s.

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Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....