Baseball may be America’s national pastime (or at least used to be), but bocce is Italian-Americans’.
The ancient game, a combination of bowling and billiards, is still played, mostly by older adults, in places like Schenectady’s Central Park, the basement of a soccer club in Rotterdam, and a city-owned facility in the Port Jackson section of Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam operation has become an issue because the club that uses the courts and building there has apparently not been complying with state regulations or living up to its agreement with the city.
And a pretty sweet agreement it is — a sweetheart deal, one could say. Under a 10-year contract signed in 2007 under the former mayor, who is a member (as is an alderman, who serves as president), the club pays the city $1 a year. It’s supposed to maintain the facility, and has done a good job of that. But there’s no record of it doing other things it is supposed to, such as getting a million-dollar insurance policy indemnifying the city, or a state liquor license, even though it appears to serve beer.
The bocce courts are beautiful, in a large open space with a pavilion and picnic tables. They’re located on the South Side, which the city hopes to revitalize with restaurants and shops. They’re close to the bike path and to where the new pedestrian bridge over the Mohawk River will connect, once it is built. With their old-world charm and heritage, they figure to be an attraction for visitors, who can watch the league games and tournaments that are played there most nights during summer.
But this is still a city recreational facility, and it shouldn’t be the club’s private preserve. The club should not only be complying with the contract and state law, but communicating and working with the city’s recreation department, which has been trying to increase opportunities for kids after two teens were murdered last year.
How about more learn-to-play bocce nights for young people, and family nights, organized and promoted with the city? How about donating a few thousand dollars a year to youth recreation programs, from club dues, tournament fees or fundraisers? How about regularly sponsoring social events for kids and the community?
Bocce not only is a sport but a social activity. The club should reach out and try to bring more people in.