Middlebury considers building bocce courts and pavilion

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department officials are seeking donations and grants to build two bocce courts and a related pavilion on town recreation park land, just west of the warming hut.
Project supporters point to bocce as a popular, low-impact sport that is easy to learn and could appeal to all generations, from children to seniors. Middlebury resident Eric McFerran — a longtime bocce enthusiast — approached Parks & Recreation Director Terri Arnold several months ago about establishing some local courts for the sport.
Bocce players toss/roll metal balls (about the size of a softball) down the court to come closest to a small ball, known as a “jack.” Strategy often includes dislodging an opponents’ ball out of prime position. The team ending up with balls closest to the jack scores points.
“It’s a growing sport,” said McFerran, who has played bocce on several continents and now regularly participates in tournaments in Rutland and Burlington. “I think it would be easy to get public interest.”
Bocce is particularly popular in Europe. It is common, notably in Italy and Spain, to see people engaged in spirited bocce games in village parks. In Vermont, the Italian American Club has an active bocce schedule in Rutland, while the Burlington Bocce Club holds regular competitions in Oakledge Park.
With Middlebury midway between those two cities, McFerran sees an opportunity for a local bocce facility to host tournaments — and thus bring shoppers and diners to Addison County’s shire town. He added operators of local inns have agreed that the sport would provide a fun recreational outlet for lodgers looking for a low-impact game.
“It’s as competitive as you want it to be,” Arnold said of the sport.
McFerran said putting bocce courts at the recreation park would be convenient for many potential players. The spot is close to Mary Hogan Elementary School and, of course, the warming hut, which will soon be the location of the Addison Central Teens center. The spot that is targeted for the bocce courts has been the home of a one-day bocce tournament sponsored by the Counseling Service of Addison County for the past few summers.
And Middlebury is home to two substantial retirement communities whose residents have transportation options to get to the courts. In addition, Middlebury College has many students, faculty members and staff of diverse backgrounds who have already had a lot of exposure to bocce.
“It is a sport that is low cost or no cost to people,” McFerran said, pointing to the potential for sets of bocce balls to be loaned to players for matches.
Arnold and her colleagues are busy trying to turn the bocce idea into reality. To that end, they are targeting two grants — one through the state of Vermont that requires a local match, and the other through the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The NRPA grant comes with a crowd-funding effort, an online platform through which donors will be able to target their contributions specifically at the proposed Middlebury bocce courts. That crowd-funding campaign will take place during a 30-day period early next spring.
Arnold has also proposed to use $12,500 in municipal capital funds allotted for future recreation field improvements and $5,000 in supplies money in the budget to apply to the local match requirement for the state grant.
Private donations will also be critical for the project, estimated to cost around $65,000, according to Arnold. That would include a 70-foot-by-120-foot area for bocce courts and a pavilion structure that would provide a 74-foot-by-120-foot cover for the facility. A pavilion would allow folks to play bocce during every season but winter.
Arnold noted the project could initially be limited to one court if funding lags.
Organizers of the bocce project will need to receive an OK from the ID-4 school board, which has authority over new construction in the town’s recreation park. Arnold said she has reached out to ID-4 board Chairwoman Ruth Hardy to schedule a presentation of the plan.
“We’ve gotten good response,” Arnold said of community reaction thus far to the bocce proposal.
Anyone interested in contributing to the bocce courts project can send their checks to Middlebury Parks & Recreation, c/o Town of Middlebury, 94 Main St., Middlebury, VT 05753. Donors should mark “bocce court” in the memo line of their check.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
A WOMAN TAKES part in the annual Counseling Service of Addison County bocce tournament in the Middlebury recreation park two summers back. 
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

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