Bocce balls to roll into 2023 Cornhusker Games

Bocce ball will make its first appearance as part of 2023's Cornhusker Games.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 10:18 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Starting July 6, Nebraskans of all ages will be suiting up and taking part in the annual Cornhusker Games.

The amateur sports festival features a little something for everybody who wants to compete, and in 2023, a game with Italian roots will finally have its day in the sun.

To the folks who regularly gather for fellowship and food at Omaha’s Sons and Daughters of Italy, the game from the old country is a perfect fit for Monday nights any time of year.

It’s not that lawn game the Brits call “bowl.” This is bocce. For starters, pronounce it right -- whichever way that is.

“It is called ‘bo-chee’ ball, not bah-chee ball,” Jeff Larson said. “That’s the Italian determination.”

His wife Suzanne begs to differ.

“Italian is ‘BO-chee’, but everybody calls it ‘BAH-chee.’ So, yeah, it works both ways.”

The Larsons initially ramped up their love of bocce after restrictions began to ease regarding COVID-19. They saw the need for some good old-fashioned fun in neighborhoods like Omaha’s Little Italy, so they started Game On Omaha a few years ago and now host leagues at places like Sons of Italy, Sonny’s, and Midtown Crossing -- outdoors of course when the weather is right and indoors when it isn’t.

“It’s just been a lot of fun,” Suzanne said. “We played when we were younger, and we loved it.”

The game is not that hard to learn. First, one team throws the little yellow ball down there. The little yellow ball has its own nome.

“Pellino, pellina depending on the gender you want it,” Suzanne explained. “It’s also called a jack.”

Each team tries to get as many of its balls as close to the jack as they can, and the only team that scores points is the one that’s closest to the jack.

For the most part, it’s a non-contact sport.

“You heard of the Carlentini Crushers? I’ll crush ‘em!”

One Sons of Italy player was having some fun with the visiting team’s nickname, and with the idea that there would be anything but good-natured fun at their matches.

When asked if there is any trash-talking between teams, he replied: “Yeah, we do some trash-talking, most of its in Sicilian but you couldn’t understand.”

This led to the reporter’s response: “I’ve seen all the movies...”

“Well, I’ll give you an offer you can’t refuse,” he laughed.

In Nebraska, bocce will finally take center stage as an event in the Cornhusker State Games for the first time this year. The games are held throughout the month of July at more than 70 sites in Lincoln, Omaha, and across the state.

There are even U.S. and world federations for bocce, and the first world championships were held in Genoa, Italy, in 1951.

Bocce is also played at a highly competitive level in Paralympic and Special Olympics competitions worldwide.