HIGHWOOD – Mario Massa, the 98-year-old “godfather of bocce” has been a regular at the Highwood Bocce Club since it opened in 1969. Massa has played in bocce ball tournaments all over the world, and he had a front row seat when Highwood hosted the U.S. Bocce Federation (USBF) National Tournament once again.
Massa served as president of the Highwood Bocce Club for 12 years, and he brought the 1996 World Team Punto, Raffa, Volo World Championship to Highwood, where he won the World Cup, according to the USBF Wall of Honor. He was selected for the USBF Wall of Honor in 2004, and served on the board of directors for many years.
Peter Pieracci, current president of the Highwood Bocce Club, said Massa is one of the reasons he enjoys running the club.
“Every day people come here to play cards and watch the Italian channel, and most of them are in their 80s and 90s,” said Pieracci. “They try to solve world problems both here and in Italy. It’s nice to have a home away from home for these guys.” The club has about 500 members.
Bocce ball is the world’s oldest sport, and it is considered a cross between bowling and shuffleboard. Players at opposite ends of a court hurl bocce balls toward a smaller pallino ball with the goal of coming closest in distance to the pallino, according to a press release.
The USBF National Tournament ran from June 20 to June 24 with a Saturday evening awards banquet. More than 60 of the best players from around the country competed for the national championship title, a $4,000 grand prize and more than $9,200 in total prize money.
Pieracci said it was an elimination tournament like brackets, and 14 teams competed from around the country. One tournament was for medals, one was for money and the other was the Punto, Raffa, Volo team competition, which is a different format at the end of the week.
Pieracci explained that the national tournament happens every three years and this is the third time that it’s been held in Highwood. The new courts were installed in 2009 by a firm from Italy. “They’re probably the best courts not only in the Midwest, but in the country,” he said.
Danny Passaglia seconded Pieracci and proves it by traveling all of the way from Homewood Glen to be a member at the Highwood Bocce Club at 440 Bank Lane.
“We use these courts as a qualifier and we’re sending two players from Kansas City to the World Games in Poland,” said Passaglia.
Passaglia is played with the Mazzini Team and he has organized hundreds of these competitions. The competitions included individuals, men, women and under 21. “The three winners represent us in the world championships that could be held in Switzerland and Italy,” said Pieracci.
Massa said he most enjoyed playing bocce ball in Lugano, Switzerland, and he played until he was 85.
Nancy Bolling is the only female committee member. “They needed a girl’s influence,” she said. Bolling enjoys playing on the “phenomenal” courts with her husband. “The personal local feel of the club is what makes it so successful,” she said. The women’s league plays on Tuesdays or Wednesdays depending on the season.
Pieracci said the club has a summer instructional for new players. This program gives new players four weeks from the time they’ve started to get a feel for the game before a payment is required. Only members may play in the league. Bolling added that the club is getting a lot of younger members in their 20s, because it’s a great place to be on a Friday night.
It’s also a great place to eat. Pieracci said more than 20 “Italian ladies” from Highwood make delicious homemade tortellacci, and 95-year-old Theresa Ori is the head chef. “Everybody loves Mrs. Ori’s tortellacci and a few of the younger girls want to learn how to make it,” said Pieracci, who emigrated from Italy to Highwood in 1960.
Pieracci shared the winners of the competitions with DailyNorthShore:
- Jose Botto from Detroit won the Punto Raffa Volo Tournament, and will go to the World Championship.
- The winner for the 21 and Under Division, Hunter Gallero is also from Detroit.
- Two Highwood residents came in Third and Fourth Place: Paulo Giannetti and Jay Grandi.
- In the Mens Team Competition: Highwood #2 beat Highwood #1.
- Team #2: Mario Galletti, George Minorini, Mike Puccio, and Ettore Pasquesi.
- Team #1: (in Second Place) Frank DeLuca, Paulo Giannetti, Jay Grandi, and Tony Biondi.
- Team #1 also won The Cash Tournament
- The Second Place Winners were Team Finezza (California): Ron Jacobs, JoAnn Jacobs, Teresa Rea, and Brad Thayer.