Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rolling with friendship on the bocce court

Competition, conversation inspire these teams at Sun City Anthem

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, May 1, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.

Sixty-four-year-old David Rosen is sitting on a green bench, trying to ignore the wicked wind so he can give a 25-yard stretch of grass his full attention.

He knows his turf the way an artist knows his canvas.

Rosen is a bocce enthusiast.

To the right is his teammate, Faye. “She’ll kill me if I don’t throw a good shot here,” Rosen says.

Indeed, Faye is also his wife.

And on this day, they are sitting together at Sun City Anthem’s bocce courts, a place they adopted several years ago as the best stand-in for the more grueling bowling alleys of his youth.

Rosen’s left shoulder was replaced years ago, his left knee is gone, neuropathy stole his balance and his bowling days are over.

So now it’s bocce.

“I can’t throw as hard as I’d like to, but I enjoy it a lot,” he says with a Brooklyn accent that seven years ago followed him to Sun City Anthem.

He prepares to stand up; underneath a pair of sunglasses, Rosen looks forward at a scattering of softball-sized metal balls and, more specifically, a smaller, cue ball-looking object near the middle.

“As far as sport goes,” he says of bocce compared to bowling, “the skill aspect is the same.”

David and Faye Rosen represent half of a team called The Nestors, one of about 110 teams with four players each that play in Sun City Anthem bocce leagues.

“This is 90 percent social and 10 percent exercising,” says Dick Krupp, a former president of the league. “It’s about being healthy, mentally and physically, and seeing new faces.”

Krupp serves as the old ranger of the bunch and looks the part, wearing a fit plaid shirt with a forest-green bucket hat tied just below the chin and dark aviator sunglasses.

“This is a great sport,” he says slowly, not finishing his thought, and smiles. “This is a great sport for old people.”

Bocce is bowling and lawn darts mixed in a blender with a sprinkle of a slower pace.

The goal of the game is to roll the ball closer to the palina — a smaller, palm-size white ball — than the other team does. A team accrues points by the number of balls it has closer to the palina than the other team’s closest ball.

One team is chosen at random to place the palina by rolling it between the white and red lines at the end of the 25-yard court. Once the palina is placed, the teams alternate turns rolling.

If the palina is not placed, falling short of the white or passing the red line about two yards from the end, the opposing team gets the opportunity to place it wherever it likes.

“It has the fundamentals of a lot of recreational sports,” says Jesse Buckelew, president of the Sun City Anthem Bocce Club.

And it’s fun, pitting the older kids against the younger ones. “We have people in their upper-70s going against 60-year-olds,” he says, “I like the competition.”

Little wonder. His team, the Untouchables, just completed a 44-0 season. “Tell the paper!” Ro Keller urges him. “Because that’s got to be the first time it’s happened.”

Krupp, the past president, and Buckelew, the current president, are teammates on the Untouchables.

“He’s like my son,” Krupp jokes. “Like I adopted him.”

Buckelew nods his head and laughs.

He is 78 years old. Krupp is 80.

The dozens of seniors braving the wind have one of three things in common: They’re laughing, talking or playing bocce.

Many are multitasking, not with iPods, iPhones or iPads, but through their company, the appreciation of a game being played in a life being lived.

“There’s a fellowship here that makes it unique,” says Al Fortunato, who, as he likes to say, “migrated here like all of the nation.” (He’s from Pittsburgh.)

Faye Rosen and Leslie Neumann know all about that unique fellowship.

Both were born in Queens and graduated together in Newtown High School’s Class of 1968, and then lost touch with one another — only to reconnect over bocce in Sun City Anthem.

“You meet people here who lived around the corner from you or in the next city and didn’t even know it,” Neumann says. “It’s really amazing.”

After Faye Rosen’s roll rests a mere inch or two away from the palina, it’s Neumann’s turn.

“Let’s see how long this lasts,” Rosen says pessimistically.

Neumann’s green ball knocks Rosen’s at just the right angle, exploding the arrangement and giving the Friends 4 Ever team an 11-3 victory in the first game.

“Wow, Leslie,” she says. “Nice shot, you’re spot on today!”

David Rosen walks gingerly onto the bocce court, a little overweight in his older days, wearing an olive green Windbreaker, black pants and black workman’s shoes.

Rosen shuffles toward the blue throwing line, step-by-step, with a four-pound burgundy bocce ball curled up in his right arm and a golden cane helping him along with his left.

“I wasn’t always like this,” he says. “Before, I used to watch. Now, it’s one of the last things I can do.”

He musters what he can with his worn right shoulder and underhands the ball down the court.

The ball rolls slower and slower, missing the front green ball and nestles next to the palina.

“He does very well with that cane,” says the woman who might have killed him over a bad shot.

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