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Bocce fanatics take aim at Heinz History Center

| Monday, Aug. 15, 2011

Amerigo DelSignore celebrates bocce with a Morningside league of about 170 players.

Concert promoter Henry DeLuca honors winners of a yearly, family bocce tournament with a trophy that is kept by the victors that whole year, like hockey's Stanley Cup.

The Senator John Heinz History Center will be the center of bocce action on Saturday with its second all-day tournament. It is a festivity of food, refreshments, music and, of course, the pallino, the little ball that is the center of the game.

"It's a game that is for everyone," DeLuca says. "It is for any age, any gender."

Jack Mascaro, the head of Mascaro Construction and one of the founders of the history center event, is proud of the Italian ethnic connection to the sport.

"It's nice to know who you are," he says.

The tournament is part of a continuing effort to raise $1 million for the Italian-American collection at the history center, part of which would go toward crea ting the post of a full-time curator. About 30 teams will compete in the parking lot under the Veterans Bridge. They will play on courts built by Mascaro's company, which has done a few slightly bigger projects, such as building Heinz Field.

Other courts will be set up to allow spectators to play bocce while listening to music from groups such as Pure Gold and Jimmy Sapienza's Five Guys Named Moe.

The game is a test of rolling or tossing balls on a framed court to get them close to the pallino, sometimes called the jack. It is similar to other forms of lawn bowling, but never confuse the games unless you want an argument.

Using bocce as a fundraising device for the Italian-American collection seemed appropriate, says Jacqueline M. Cavalier, an associate professor of history at the Community College of Allegheny County's North Side campus. She has done research on immigration and social aspects of the late 19th century and has found bocce to be a sport that helped to link the new Americans to each other and their homeland.

Leagues were establishing themselves in Italy at that time, so it makes sense that enthusiasm for the game would carry across the ocean.

Mascaro and DeLuca, head of HJD Enterprises, saw that popularity with their families, who arrived here early in the 20th century. The two men carried the love of the game forward by adding bocce courts to their homes in Upper St. Clair and Shadyside, respectively.

"I play, but not a lot," Mascaro says. "But I had to add a court. It is great for entertainment."

DeLuca admits he plays only a little, but loves the game "as a vehicle for fun" and is proud of his 20-year-old tournament at his family picnic.

Cavalier talks about how the game has "peasant origins" that give it an everyman popularity far removed from sports like golf or tennis and their fancy clubs. It has an urban nature that carries from the streets of her native Connellsville to the courts in Morningside, which were named after DelSignore's brother, John.

The sport is so popular there, competition is held five nights a week, three for men and two for women, she says.

Like any sport, the game is rife for arguments, from the quality of surfaces used to make the courts to the closeness of the balls. Knowing that, Mascaro proudly says he has invented "the ultimate bocce measuring device."

It is an empty can of tomato paste, which fits over the pallino, with string wrapped with which the spacing can be measured.

"Preferably Italian tomato paste, but Hunt's will do," he says with a laugh.

Additional Information:

Senator John Heinz History Center Bocce Tournament and Festival

When: 1 p.m.-dusk Saturday

Admission: Free

Where: Parking lot across from center at 12th and Smallman streets

Details: 412-454-6325

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