Bocce on the brain

Chico group wants to establish bocce courts in city parks

The fifth annual Chico Bocce Ball Tournament at Red Tavern raised an estimated $12,000 for KZFR and the Butte County Library Literary Services. It was also a really good time.

The fifth annual Chico Bocce Ball Tournament at Red Tavern raised an estimated $12,000 for KZFR and the Butte County Library Literary Services. It was also a really good time.

Photo By melissa daugherty

Everybody loves bocce.

Or so it seems.

The Italian ball sport certainly has taken hold of many Chicoans over the past couple of years, in back yards and at Red Tavern on The Esplanade. The fine-dining restaurant played host to the annual Bocce Ball Tournament on Sunday (May 2). The event was packed, a good indicator of the game’s increasing popularity with locals.

However, as it stands, those who want to play bocce in Chico have limited options: plan an evening at Red Tavern, head over to The Chico Racquet Club or build your own court.

“We have no public courses,” said bocce enthusiast Tom Nickell.

Chico’s first-term city councilman is one of the most outspoken advocates for establishing places to play. Nickell has been aiding local group Friends of Chico Bocce, as its members lobby the city in this effort to place courts in local parks.

Local musician Michael Cannon (of Spark ’n’ Cinder and The Pub Scouts fame) leads the group. He’s also the organizer and referee for the annual tournament, though he gives special recognition to Rosemary Febbo (of FZFR show Mama Rose’s Kitchen), who had the vision for the event and who oversees the fundraising aspects of it (food, a silent auction and other activities).

The tournament is a benefit for Butte County Library Literacy Services and local independent radio station KZFR. This year, the fifth annual competition looks to have raised in the neighborhood of $12,000—to be split between both programs. It was the first time in the history of the event that Cannon had to turn away teams. Even still, he played ref from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. during the long contest on the patio adjoining the restaurant.

Cannon has been occupied of late, sorting out the details of the competition. At the same time, he’s been working with his newly established (about four months old) bocce organization to come up with a plan to build courts around the city. The closest public courts are located in Oroville at Hewitt Park, he noted during a recent sit-down interview in downtown Chico.

“Unless you know someone with a court or are a member of the racquet club, the only place [in Chico] to play is Red Tavern right now,” he said.

And close to downtown is Cannon’s target for the proposed courts. He and other supporters want them centrally located not only to attract people to the area, but also to keep them easily accessible to the community.

Cannon has proposed a pair of courts at four parks around the city: One-Mile Recreation Area, Children’s Playground, Hooker Oak Park and Community Park. Last week, he went before the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission (for three minutes) to explain the sport and the benefits of the locations. Essentially, what the group is looking for at each park is a 76-foot-by-35-foot space. This would suffice for two courts running 60 feet in length and 12 feet in width separated by a walkway. The area would accommodate for shaded structures at both ends.

“We just need a little bit of space,” he explained to this reporter.

The goal is to create state-of-the-art courts with synthetic turf over porous concrete, making them virtually maintenance free. Friends of Chico Bocce already have designs for the facilities, thanks to local architect Thomas Tarman, he added.

Cannon envisions league play, as he’s seen in other cities, such as San Francisco’s Aquatic Park and Roseville’s Sun City. Calling bocce a multigenerational sport, he noted that it’s especially beneficial to senior citizens.

“What’s sorely lacking in Chico is outdoor recreation activity that is for seniors,” he said, “and bocce is a perfect recreational, social activity for seniors to get together, a real social gathering point for a segment of the community that needs it.”

The 61-year-old Cannon pointed out that the plan is far different from other recently approved recreation facilities, namely the disc-golf course at Upper Bidwell Park.

Nickell echoed him: “I hope people aren’t trying to make this a disc-golf issue,” he said, noting the courts are relatively small and noninvasive.

The Bidwell Park and Playground Commission recommended bocce supporters work with the Chico Area Recreation District about the potential for development at Hooker Oak and Community parks. Cannon is way ahead of the commission. He’s already working with the district. The commission’s suggestion was the first roadblock in his bid to construct courts at the parks closest to downtown, so Cannon is now looking to the City Council for those spots.

There is a bit of urgency when it comes to a proposal for Children’s Playground. The park is in the beginning stages of a renovation that will include replacing existing kid-friendly facilities with new slides, swings and other equipment, along with benches and picnic tables. Construction is slated to end as early as September. Cannon said he would like to see bocce courts included in the design plans, even if construction comes at a later date.

Friends of Chico Bocce already have one big supporter in Nickell, who said he thinks adding courts to Children’s Playground will actually deter the unwanted activity that’s long known to occur in the area. Overall, he said bocce is a great fit for Chico.

“It’s a good recreational sport for this town and we should embrace it,” he said.