Let's Learn About: Bocce in Pittsburgh

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Bocce is widely considered to be the one of the world's oldest sports. The origins of the game can be traced to ancient Egypt and hieroglyphics on tomb walls, which depicted the Egyptians tossing rocks at a specific target.

According to historians, the game evolved from using polished stones to throwing the rounded balls that are used in today's form of bocce.

While the popularity of the game had spread rapidly throughout Europe by the late 1500s, it was Italy that truly adopted bocce as a favorite pastime. Despite several crackdowns by the government and Catholic Church, who viewed the game as a gateway to gambling, bocce would continue to thrive for hundreds of years.

The first organized bocce clubs were founded in Italy, and the first known Italian League was formed in 1947 near the town of Torino.

When Italian immigrants traveled to North America and the New World, they brought their beloved game along with them. Bocce courts began to spring up in cities across the United States, especially New York, Chicago, San Francisco and, of course, Pittsburgh where Italian immigrants started local leagues.

The Ateleta Beneficial Society of Bloomfield, the Larimer Avenue Social Club and the Pittsburgh Bocce Federation were among the Italian American societies that built and maintained bocce courts in Pittsburgh.

These bocce clubs provided an important venue for socialization, and helped to preserve the customs and language of the Old World. For younger generations of Italian Americans in Pittsburgh, the sport has provided an important link to their cultural past.

In recent years, the sport has transcended all ethnicities in Western Pennsylvania and has become a popular recreational activity.

Pittsburghers can throw out the pallino and throw down for a worthy cause at the Fourth Annual Bocce Tournament and Festival from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday adjacent to the Heinz History Center in the 13th and Smallman streets parking lot.

Admission is free for spectators and includes live entertainment and curator-led tours of the History Center's Italian American collection. Visitors can also purchase Italian food and beverages provided by The Common Plea.

Event proceeds benefit the Italian American Endowed Fund. For more information: www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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