Building a bond through Bocce ball
The UW-Whitewater students for three years have been volunteering their time to help residents at Fairhaven Senior Services play bocce ball.
They set up and tear down the playing area, tally the points, make the tough scoring decisions, give players pointers, cheer at clutch shots and jeer at far misses.
Herrmann, 20, and Brummer, 21, enjoy their Thursday nights with the senior citizens, many of whom are in their 90s and some of whom still are quite nimble.
“We have a great relationship with them,” Herrmann said. “They appreciate it, and we love it.”
Herrmann and Brummer, both in their junior year at the university, first started helping with bocce ball for the community service hours they thought they would need to graduate. But the young women soon were coming back to grow the friendships that had sprouted.
“We quickly became close with them,” Brummer said.
Russ Swearingen formed the bocce ball league more than six years ago.
He learned the game during a backyard cookout while he and his wife were on vacation. He thought the game easily could be adapted for senior citizens of varying mobility and strength.
“I just thought it was a wonderful game because you could play in a wheelchair or with a walker,” Swearingen said.
The game is played in a basement room at the senior-living complex known as the “indoor garden.” The lights are dim. The walls are painted with colorful flowers and lined with a faux white picket fence. The room is filled with park benches and patio furniture.
The bocce ball court is green artificial turf about 4 feet wide and 40 feet long.
Teams of two stand or sit at opposite ends of the court. The starting team throws a small, white target ball toward the middle of the court. Players take turns throwing or rolling the bocce balls, which weigh about 2 pounds, at the target ball.
The object of the game is to get as many bocce balls as close to the target ball as possible. Teams get one point for every ball that is closer to the target than any ball of the opposing team. The first team to score 13 points wins the match.
“If you can comb your hair, you can play bocce ball,” Swearingen, 93, the record keeper of the league, is fond of saying.
Jean Norman, 84, who uses a motorized wheelchair, struggled Thursday night to find her rhythm during her match. Her first and second shots rolled past the target ball.
Herrmann, the assistant on that end of the court, cheered her on.
“C’mon, Jean. The third time is the charm,” she said.
Norman pulled her arm back alongside the arm of the chair and rolled the blue ball down the green turf. The ball slowed as it crossed the centerline and approached the target ball. It knocked into one of the opposing team’s balls but continued rolling.
“Ooh. Just missed it,” she said.
Herrmann laughed and handed her another ball.
“Geeze. Tone it down a bit, Jean,” she said.
Norman again pulled her arm back and rolled the blue ball down the left side of the court. It hugged the left border, sailed past the target and landed up against the backboard.
“That’s too hard, too,” she said.
Herrmann and Brummer seemed right at home with the seniors. The young women said they look forward to their Thursday nights because it gives them a chance to not only get away from campus and college life but also to connect with the bocce players.
“They depend on us (to help them play the game), but we depend on them, too,” Herrmann said.