Robson Ranch bocce league lets the good times roll

Bocce ball draws a big crowd in Robson Ranch. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

Frank Cianci says they came from everywhere. And when it seemed everyone had finally gotten the memo that there was a new and exciting bocce league in Robson Ranch, even more came out of the woodwork to get in on the action.

“It just … kept … growing,” said Cianci, who has been a proud Robson Ranch resident with his wife, Mary Ann, since they moved from Pennsylvania in 2013. “People would come walking around the side of the restaurant and onto the patio and say, ‘Geez. We can hear you guys laughing from the parking lot. How can we get in on this?’ It’s really great.”

He added, “I have people emailing and calling me all the time.”

If you don’t know the sport of bocce, you’re in the minority — especially if you live in Robson Ranch, where they now have a full-fledged league consisting of 80 teams and 850 regulars playing up to four times a week. There are an additional 150 or so subs or alternates, so the club totals about 1,000 members. The Robson Ranch Bocce League started in 2017 with eight teams and 64 players and continues to grow at an astronomical rate — making it the community’s largest club

And the best part is that anyone can play. Robson is known for being a premier retirement community for active adults, and Cianci admits many of the participants are getting up there in age and can’t play tennis, pickleball, or golf.

“No matter their physical state, they can play,” Cianci said. “We have a few people playing with walkers and canes.”

The objective of the game, which is played with eight large balls and one small “target” ball called a pallino on a grass or artificial turf court, is for each team to roll or bounce their balls down the court in an attempt to get it to land closest to the pallino or knock someone else’s ball out of the way. Scores are taken at the end of each round, and one point is awarded for each ball that is closer to the pallino than the closest ball of the opposing team. If a bocce comes to rest against the pallino (called a baci — a kiss), it’s two points.

Easy to learn and intrinsically social, the game of bocce ball is on a roll in Robson Ranch. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

Traditionally, after the pallino is tossed to signal the start of the game, there is an in-and-out style of play where a team will keep rolling all of its available balls until they get the closest. Then, the other team will go. Those rules have been modified at Robson to shorten the game. Other traditional rules were amended or created because of the courts themselves, which are not permanent. The courts slope and dip in certain spots and rely on PVC piping to keep balls in the field of play.

“We are playing on two different surfaces — surfaces that are not perfect, but they really give you a chance to hone your skills,” Cianci said. “Again, it’s not the most level thing in the world, but it serves the purpose well.”

To hear Cianci talk about bocce is the equivalent of listening to a student of the game break down every nuance. In Pennsylvania, bocce is huge — to the point where you can’t go a few miles without finding a permanent bocce court at someone’s home or at a nearby bar or restaurant.

Needless to say, Cianci is a big fan, and so were many of his good friends. One, in particular, put in four bocce courts at his Pennsylvania home and imported an electronic scoreboard from Italy to host larger events.

Cianci wants the same thing at Robson. The only problem is space. There is a growing push to have a permanent facility built in the community — one that would give the club a dedicated space and allow them to keep growing. Currently, the club is maxed out and cannot take on any additional players or teams.

At first, playing on the artificial turf patio outside of the Wildhorse Grill was sufficient. Eventually, the community’s general manager agreed to mow a nearby grassy area and allow the club to paint lines to add three additional courts.

Cianci says they are at max capacity now.

“There’s no more room,” he said. “If we had a facility, we could have tournaments as fundraisers for Veteran homes and schools, etc. That’s where I want to go with this, and it’s only going to enhance the Robson brand. I’ve been told that the most profitable days, weeks, and months for the restaurant and bar here are when bocce is going on. We literally put hundreds of people out there. So if there’s an actual facility nearby, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

The good news is that Robson Ranch officials are listening. The community has a rich history of doing all it can to provide amenities and programs that residents want and need, and a potential bocce facility would be no different. According to Cianci, they’ve identified two possible locations for a permanent facility, but it’s just a matter of making it happen.

“To their credit, anytime they do something here, it’s first-class all the way,” Cianci said. “We just need something soon because everyone wants to join. And it’s amazing that the teams we put together, it is 10 people who previously didn’t know one another. And now they travel together and go to restaurants together. There are all of these good friendships that have been created because of bocce. It’s very rewarding.”

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