“The thoughtful steps our Managing Director Matt David has enacted have ensured everyone is comfortable and safe, but it's very difficult to maintain true social distancing in any type of sport, so we've generally erred on the side of extreme caution and not come close to blurring any lines.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in the USA at the start of this year, Mr Gara made the call to put all American Bocce Company leagues on hold. It was a difficult decision – there were dozens of active leagues across the country – but it was vital to ensure player safety.
For the next few months, they worked to develop safe return to play policies, which have now been introduced at four leagues running in Chicago, along with two prominent leagues in Boise, Idaho.
The new rules require players to wear masks and teams to use their own set of bocce balls, which they receive upon entering and use throughout the competition.
Each team also receives its own pallino – the team that wins a frame throws their one out for the next frame, while the other team holds their pallino in their pocket until they win a frame.
The rules also limit players’ time to 90 minutes and only eight players are allowed into a venue at a time, to ensure physical distancing can easily be maintained between teams.
“In the past, we made it a goal to have as many players in the room and near the courts as possible, so we've had to make a complete 180 in that respect,” Mr Gara says.
Leagues have been reduced to four weeks long, rather than seven, and referees undergo bi-weekly testing to ensure they are in good health.
All of the American Bocce Company leagues are played on portable Packabocce courts, which play an important role in ensuring the sport can be taken to new venues with plenty of space, Mr Gara says.
“The Packabocce courts give us the ability to explore new opportunities and activations, as well as be nimble with how we operate. For example, we are now offering bocce four days a week in an improvised parking lot patio in front of a prominent restaurant in Chicago's west loop – there’s no way that could happen without Packaworld.”
Another Chicago venue being used is Bridge 410 – a picturesque venue in the heart of the city’s brewing district that is been popular for weddings and events. Mr Gara works as the venue and event manager at Bridge 410 and says the setting – in the backyard of a carriage house from the early 1900s – wows many newer players.
“So many players are walking into the Bridge 410 backyard for the first time with their jaws dropped, exclaiming, ‘how come I've never played here before?’ It’s the perfect oasis for safe, controlled bocce ball, but it's a little bittersweet – the only reason we have the space available for our leagues is because we had to cancel so many weddings and corporate events due to Covid-19.”
Mr Gara is upbeat about the future of the sport and is looking forward to seeing Covid-19 brought under control. He concedes that the number of players and leagues has fallen but expects things to bounce back over time.
“The bocce community is very strong. Even those who have decided to sit out this summer have been communicative and encouraging. We're operating at about 33 per cent at the moment. It might not sound like a lot, but we're extremely grateful to even have this considering the circumstances.”
The remainder of 2020 will bring fresh surprises, and American Bocce Company will continue to meet them head on, he says.
“I'm looking forward to the challenge. We are dedicated, passionate, and very good at what we do. Every business pivots over time, and we will too."
Photos provided courtesy of American Bocce Company.
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