When Lynden bocce ball enthusiast Frank Turner spotted a spectator watching a match at Bender Fields, he knew just what to say.
“Hey, we don’t take spectators,” he shouted in what he recalled was a friendly tone. “We take players! Come on over and try it!”
And thus another bocce ball player was born.
That’s pretty much the way Turner, himself, got the bocce bug, along with fellow Lynden Community/Senior Center septuagenarian players Les Molenaar and Greg Lum Ho.
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They all hope to participate on the winning team against squads from Blaine, Ferndale and Bellingham in the 25th Annual All County Senior Center Bocce Ball Tournament Aug. 27 at Bender Fields.
“I remember how I got into bocce ball,” said Turner, 70, who helps with the logistics of the one-day event, in which Lynden will try to repeat as team senior center champion.
Lynden Center director Cathi LeCocq oversees the much-loved tournament.
“I was driving by Bender Fields (best known for high school soccer and softball) about six years ago. I saw a bunch of people in a fenced area, and I wondered what was going on,” Turner said. “I stopped to find out. Shortly after that, I was playing bocce ball.”
Molenaar, 75, has developed tunnel vision but can be counted on to cheer on the Lynden teams if he can’t play by August. He was a tennis player for more than 50 years but turned to bocce ball about seven years ago.
He already knew a lot of the players, as he had recently retired after 46 years as a barber in Lynden.
Lum Ho, 72, arrived in Lynden two years ago and is grateful for the friends he has already made.
“I’m a friendly person, and I had played bocce in Surrey (British Columbia),” he said, also noting that he got his bocce start on the recreational courts in San Mateo, Calif. “I love making friends, and bocce is a friendly sport.”
Bocce can get a tad complicated – its standard tournament guide lists 65 rules – but Molenaar said that all can play without extensive experience.
“Anyone can play bocce ball,” said Molenaar, who has lived in Lynden since he arrived from Iowa as a 4-year-old in 1947.
“I was involved as the recreation chairman for the Bender Fields committee when we had a bond vote to build Bender Fields in the late 1970s,” Molenaar said. “A lot of older folks in town told me they wanted to see a bocce court put in there. I wanted to get more votes, so …”
That’s how bocce came to Lynden.
Bocce may not be as big as basketball and football in the sports-crazed town, but it’s still big. The court is used at least twice a week from May through October on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Come on down! We don’t turn anyone away,” Molenaar said. “Younger, older, men, women.”
“I think more women are now playing than men,” Lum Ho said.
Molenaar said people who are good bowlers can make strong bocce players, as well.
“The underhand throwing motion is similar,” he said, although the standard ball, at 4 ¼ inches in diameter, is nowhere near as heavy as a bowling ball.
The grass court is 10 feet wide and 60 feet long. Teams consist of four players, one of whom is designated as the captain, who makes all the decisions (there can be a second captain at the opposite end).
On the first throw, decided by a coin flip, a smaller white ball – a pallino – is thrown onto the opposite end of the court. Then all eight players make throws with colored balls, trying to get as close to the pallino as possible.
There are lots of scoring possibilities in each frame (similar to an inning in baseball) and games can be to 12, 15 or 21 points.
Captains know all the rules, so they are the deciders.