FAIRFIELD — Along with several of his bocce-playing friends, Camillo “Smilie” Ferrari is a practical joker.
“Most of the guys on my team wear hearing aids,” he said, with a glint reminiscent of Dennis the Menace.
Once, the 91-year-old bocce player told all his teammates to turn off their hearing aids as a joke to their team captain, Toni Todd. At the memory, Todd flatlines her lips in a mock look of anger, but the smile is there.
And she gives as good as she gets — Ferrari doesn’t wear suspenders anymore because of Todd.
Most of Todd’s team with the Fairfield Bocce Federation have been together for a long time and most members are at least in their 80s, said member Virgie Trammell. Ferrari refers jokingly to the team as the “old age” team.
“They’re a good team and sometimes they beat the pants off of us,” Trammell said.
And they did just that recently during Tuesday morning league play at the bocce court.
“They won all three games,” Trammell said. “When they’re on, they’re on. It was an off day for us. Most of the time we take turns winning. That last game was like 12-1. It was awful.”
But it’s all in good fun — Ferrari, Trammell and Todd are three of the 107 members who belong to the Fairfield Bocce Federation. At the bocce courts across from the senior center on Civic Center Drive, they compete in league play Tuesday and Thursday mornings, with a more informal introduction and play Thursday evening. That’s the night new players can learn the game.
On this recent Tuesday morning, the games and the jokes were on once again, as eight teams, about 40 or so team members, tried their best to out-do the other team.
As the opening ball — the little pallino — was tossed and the games began, so did the laughter — and the ever-present arm gesturing and conversations with the balls as they rolled down the court, hopefully, toward the target, the pallino. The idea is to roll the bocce balls — bigger than the pallino with the standard size 4.2 inches in diameter and 2 pounds — the closest to the pallino.
“Don’t go out,” Trammell said, yelling at her ball as it headed quickly to the backboard. Ferrari and Todd peered over the edge, watching with smiles as the ball thunked against the edge.
“Virgie talks to the ball and sometimes it listens,” Todd said, laughing.
If the ball hits the backboard, it’s out. And the good-natured ribbing starts once again.
“I’ve got a hearing aid and I heard that,” Ferrari said, joking, as Trammell’s ball hit the end of the approximately 90-foot court another time.
Bocce originated in Italy and it still attracts many players of Italian descent in Fairfield. The roster of past and present players is filled with Italian surnames such as Ferrari, Ragusa, Colombano, Magnetti and Scocci. Todd is Italian and so is Gina Parchamowicz.
“I’m Italian and married a Polish (man),” Parchamowicz said in accented English. “I grew up in Italy and near my house they played.
“They didn’t allow the girls to play bocce so we’d go up to the balcony and watch them.”
Parchamowicz joked that she had to come to the U.S. in order to play. Ferrari’s dad used to play but the younger Ferrari had little interest until his later years. Bill Colombano said he was encouraged to play by a neighbor.
“I didn’t play bocce until my neighbor, who is Chinese, introduced me to the game,” Colombano said, laughing. “He comes to me and said, ‘You’re Italian, how would you like to play bocce?’ ”
He said that this was the same neighbor who got him to join the Sons of Italy group.
“Sometimes you run out of Italians and you have to beat the bush,” he said, laughing once again, as to how his Chinese neighbor became a member of Sons of Italy.
The majority of the players are in their 60s and 70s with many in their 80s, Trammell said. Ferrari is the oldest on the team and Nick Martens, a newbie to the group, is just 16.
Martens, a Vacaville Christian Schools student, said he got started after his mother, who works at the senior center, asked him if he wanted to play. He figured it was something new that he hadn’t tried before. In fact, he didn’t even know what it was.
“Not a clue,” he said.
He began on Thursday evenings and said he was initially intimidated by the age difference between him and most of the other players. He’s played about seven times so far and sticks to Thursday evenings, which he said is less pressure but it’s a game he plans to continue with. He said the game is easy to learn but “getting the throws where you want them” is the most difficult part.
The low-impact sport, which incorporates strategy in its play, allows seniors and the disabled to stay active.
“It’s relaxing and it’s fun,” said Mike Kimmel.
But he added, laughing, “The best thing about bocce is it keeps the old people off the streets.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected]