For a group of retired teachers from the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District, the end of June used to mean it was time to clean out classrooms, grade final exams and plan for next year’s students.
Now years into retirement, the closing of another school year only means one thing: bocce.
For more than 40 years, the group gets together on the last Wednesday in June for bocce and a barbecue in former art teacher Gino Latini’s backyard in Ballston Lake. Latini taught in the district from 1955 to 1982, and said the event was started in 1973 to celebrate the closing of the school year.
“We used to get a keg of beer and play bocce until midnight, then we’d go down the road to the bar,” Latini said, laughing. “That was quite a while ago. We’re getting older. Now we only go until about 3 p.m.”
Though each member of the all-male group of 16 has been retired for more than 15 years, they still prove to be a lively bunch, making plenty of wisecracks as they swap stories over burgers and beer.
The former educators have made the game more official by getting color-coordinated T-shirts for each four-man team, and players wager a dollar on each round. Additionally, games can’t be started until Frank Enzien lights the official bocce torch.
“Frank used to run the torch all the way around the field, but now he has back problems so he cuts through the middle of the court. We still make it happen, though,” said Pat Dicaprio, who went on to become superintendent of the Scotia-Glenville Central School District after he taught math at BH-BL from 1964 to 1967.
Before the torch was lit, Latini jumped on top of a short table and pulled out a special bottle of liquor, calling for a toast to colleagues and friends who had died over the years.
“Let’s drink to those who have gone before us,” said Latini, who looked up at the sky as he said, “Gentlemen, let’s give them a big hello.”
“Hello!” the group shouted.
“How do we know that they all made it up there?” said John Elridge, who taught in the district from 1962 to 1999. The group erupted in laughter.
Enzien jogged across the field with a flame in hand to light the makeshift torch, and the retirees cheered as they prepared to get into the competitive spirit. As they took turns tossing bocce balls, the men bantered, making jokes and giving each other tips on how to score.
Despite threatening skies overhead, they managed to finish their games before the rain started to pour. Though most of the retired teachers are long out of touch with their former students, they always seize the opportunity to catch up with former colleagues, some traveling from as far as New York City to make the event.
The rain began just as the winning team was declared, moving the crowd and the beer into Latini’s garage.
“Of course it doesn’t really matter which team wins. In the end, it’s all in good fun.” Latini said, “And we hope we can keep doing this for 40 more years, as long as we can.”
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