Balls of Fury, Boccia Style
Boccia ball has left the backyard and found its way onto the Paralympic field.
You may have played picnic bocce in your backyard at a family reunion or seen old men in white suits partaking. International/Paralympic boccia is a slightly different version of the game. Boccia is a high-stakes and high-performance precision sport that is practiced in more than 50 countries. Men and women compete together as boccia is one of the few international sports where genders are truly mixed.
The court is any hard gymnasium-like surface and must measure 6m X 12.5m, including all six throwing boxes. The balls are made of soft leather and are slightly larger and heavier than a baseball; six red balls, six blue balls and one white ball called the jack are in a set of boccia. Individual players have six balls each, pairs players have three balls each and team players (3 on 3) have two each.
The object of the sport is to score more points than your opponent by placing your colored ball closer to the white jack ball than your opponent’s colored ball. After both colored balls have been thrown onto the court, whichever side is further from the jack will throw until they get closer or run out of balls. A game consists of four ends (similar to baseball innings) for most play and there can be overtime.
Boccia players have the intense task of placing balls on the court so precisely that they block their opponent’s angle, hit and move balls for offense and defense, ricochet into place and even climb on top of each other from the force of throws.
Charles Brown prepares for a game of boccia ball. Photo courtesy Getty Images.
There are four classes in boccia, and in the U.S. and Canada 3 of the 4 boccia classes are well represented. The most underrepresented class is the BC4 class, established in 2000.
New to the BC4 class is Charles Brown (ranked 63rd in the world) and a C5-6 tetraplegic injured from diving in June 1986 while serving in the Marine Corps. He was always active in sports until his injury. After his accident Brown tried his hand at skiing, track and field, table tennis, billiards and bowling before settling on rugby.
But Brown says, “Twenty-five years of pushing a wheelchair took its toll on my shoulders and being as active simply wasn't in the cards for me.” He still craved competition and wanted to be active in the sports world but couldn’t find a sport suited to his reality.
Introduced to boccia in 2011, Brown was able to make the U.S. national team within six months as the BC4 division is wide open and only two players competed in the 2011 nationals.
“This sport brings out the competitive spirit and really gets your mind active,” he says. “Like billiards and chess, you must think ahead and plan for either your next shot or your opponent’s."
Quad amp and BC4 player Josh Vander Vies from Canada (ranked 17th in the world) was born with congenital amputation.
“The doctors explained to my parents that I had been born missing all of my limbs and gave a prediction of my future so bleak that my parents blurted out: ‘Is he going to die.’ The doctors, a little surprised, laughed and said I was perfectly healthy, just without most of my arms and legs. A lot of people with disabilities have overprotective parents and friends, but I was lucky to be pushed throughout my life."
Vander Vies was always encouraged to push his limits in life and in sports where he competed in swimming, shot put, discus and javelin, then discovered boccia and was hooked.
For #4 world ranked Marco Dispaltro, wheelchair sports have been in his blood since 1993—first as a rugby player then a tennis player, and back to rugby before retiring in 2003. He then managed and coached rugby teams before entering the world of boccia in 2010.
“I had lots of misconceptions about playing the sport, hesitating a long time before participating but going out there and competing instantly gave me that rush that had been missing and the stereotypes fell by the wayside and I was all in,” he says.
This past February these three athletes were present at the CMAA Therapeutic Recreation Complex in Lake Worth, Fla, which was hosting its first boccia tournament with eight athletes from the United States and Canada, competing in both singles and doubles play.
This year at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games Boccia will be an exhibition sport. Stop by the courts to watch and possibly play. This is a game that everyone can enjoy on their level of ability.
To find out more info on boccia go to www.cpisra.org or contact Marco Dispaltro at firstname.lastname@example.org