The Wickliffe Italian-American Club has, over the years, earned a reputation as being not only the largest tournament in the Midwest, but also one of - if not the best - organized and well run events of its kind, that offers much more than just bocce with a variety of food and entertainment, cultural activities, children’s activities and more. Teams that come in to play in this tournament, know that they will be going up against the best of the best, and they love playing in front of the large crowds that appreciate skilled play and the strategy nuances of the game.
The level of play has gotten better and better as young, athletic players have taken up the game – especially in the Cleveland area. While perennial powerhouse teams from Toronto, Upstate New York, and Western Pennsylvania still remain quality contenders each year, these younger teams have been gaining ground and are poised to dominate in the years ahead. That’s what happened in last year’s tournament, as a local team with players ranging in age from 21 to 27 knocked off a veteran team from the East Coast. Guess what? Those guys were back again and stormed through the winner’s bracket to set up a semi-final match with the 2013 Champions – Palazzo 777, a team consisting of international stud players who have played and medaled in the World Games. In fact, one of the Palazzo players – Jose Botto (originally from Argentina) finished second in the world this year in the individual competition in Italy. Some compared this team to the basketball “Dream Team” of a few years back. If ever there was a test for the Little Italy / Mayfield kids, this was it.
Playing this year for a new sponsor – ABV Contractors – captain Mike Frabotta, Michael Anthony Croce, Dennis Strnad, and Domenic Aveni jumped out to a 7-4 lead, but missed 3 straight hits on a Palazzo ball that was snuggled up to the pallino. Palazzo had a chance for 4 points, but their ball hit the point ball and pushed the pallino out towards the ABV ball. However, Jose Botto rolled a perfect point ball and Palazzo salvaged 2 points, making it 7-6 ABV. They pushed the lead out to 11-7, but Palazzo came back with a 4 point frame, to tie the score at 11-11. Frabotta missed a hit that would have given ABV at least 2 points, possibly 3. Instead, Palazzo got the point to go up 12-11. ABV came storming back with 2 points in the next frame on a Strnad bank shot to the corner to regain the lead at 13—12. Croce missed his 3rd hit of the game, but Strnad hit and stuck. Palazzo’s Pat Pezzin (from Toronto) then rolled in for a point, and Frabotta rolled long. Palazzo’s Jason Wisniewski (from Detroit) then came up short in an attempt to win the game. Palazzo got one point to tie the game back up at 13 all (semi-final game is played up to 14). Both teams then rolled wide of the pallino for the winning point, but Wisniewski’s ball pushed up ABV’s ball for a point. With one ball left, Botto rolled a point setting up the last shot by Croce, who hit the Palazzo ball out and snatched the victory, 14-13.
The 2015 Cleveland Challenge Cup of Bocce is partially funded with a grant from the Lake County Visitors Bureau. As part of the grant reward process, 9 judges review the applications submitted and give scores based on various criteria. The Cleveland Challenge Cup of Bocce received an overall score of 95.85 (out of 100), and some of the comments by the judges were as follows:
•“Incredible event – continues to improve each year!
•“Excellent draw for out-of-towners”
•“Great event bringing international recognition to Lake County”
•“A dedicated group of volunteers, highly motivated to attract, educate and entertain visitors about
Italian heritage and bocce competition, with cultural events as a major attraction”
•Tremendous management to plan three days of divers, high-quality entertainment and competition to
attract 12K attendees and residents of 11 states and Canada”
THE WICKLIFFE ITALIAN-AMERICAN CLUB is a community-based social/fraternal organization established in 1932 for people of Italian ancestry who live in the city of Wickliffe, Ohio ( a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio). The club actively promotes and recognizes those of Italian descent who have furthered the Italian cultural bond that they they share, and offers educational programs for the children and grandchildren of it’s members, as well as awarding college scholarships each year to those who have demonstrated knowledge and pride in their Italian heritage. The Pat O’Brien Cleveland Challenge Cup of Bocce Tournament is now in its 32nd year and has grown from 16 teams to 96 teams, with attendance hitting over 12,000 in 2014. It is still the largest men’s bocce tournament in the Midwest.
The loss, being Palazzo’s first, put them back into the Loser’s Bracket, where they had to play another perennial powerhouse – Toronto’s Rainbow Creek # 24. Palazzo jumped out early and built up leads of 7-5, then pushed it up to 11-8. However, Rainbow Creek being the skilled veterans that they are (2011 Champions), wouldn’t go away and crept back to within one point at 11-12. On the next roll, Palazzo’s Pat Concordia (also from Toronto), put a ball about a foot away from the pallino. Rainbow Creek missed a hit and then rolled a ball that pushed Palazzo’s ball closer to the pallino. Palazzo’s Pat Pezzin then rolled in the second point that won the game and set up the rematch with ABV.
Since the tournament is a double elimination event and ABV had yet to lose a game, Palazzo would have to beat ABV twice to gain the crown. ABV got out to an early 2-0 lead, but Palazzo evened the score in the 3rd frame. This would be the pattern throughout the game. ABV went up 4-2, but Palazzo came back to go up 5-4, then 7-5. ABV ties the game at 7-7, and again at 9-9. This was a real see-saw battle; two heavyweights waiting for one or the other to make a mistake so they can take advantage. In the 12th frame, Aveni starts off but rolls a wide point which Concordia beats easily. Croce misses the hit – his 4th miss of the game which is very unusual for him. But Strnad is on fire and hits and sticks it again, putting his ball a few inches away from the pallino. However, Botto is deadly and splits the balls with his hit, but Frabotta rolls in between two Palazzo balls for the temporary point. Wisniewski hits and stays close enough for the 3rd point, then Pezzin rolls in for 4 points. Turning point of the game? Palazzo is now up 13-9 (final game being played to 16).
Concordia starts off but Aveni parks his ball right in front of the pallino. Wisniewski rolls in but Croce hits and sticks. Botto rolls in for a point, but Frabotta hits him out for one point. ABV doesn’t panic, and creeps a little closer at 10-13. Aveni starts the next frame but Concordia once again beats his point. Strnad then hits him out, but Botto returns the favor. Frabotta rolls right up to the pallino and Pezzin misses his hit attempt. Croce then rolls in for the second point. Palazzo’s lead shrinks to 13-12. Aveni starts again and this time snuggles his ball right up to the pallino, but Botto hits it out and regains the point, as the pallino and balls sit near the back wall. Concordia tries an opposite rail bank shot with English, but it comes off the back wall too hard. Pezzin then tries to roll straight in, but hits his own ball and is deflected away. Wisniewski rolls hard to the back wall and also hits his own ball, but pushes both balls near the pallino for 2 points. Strnad throws hard trying to split the balls, and his ball kicks upwards and bounces of the fencing at the back of the court, coming down and kicking the Palazzo balls away and turning the table for 2 points. Frabotta then rolled in for the 3rd point of the frame, and ABV regains the lead at 15-13. ABV smells blood. Aveni starts strong again and puts his ball right up against the pallino, but Botto hits him out again, and pushes the pallino towards the back wall. Concordia banks his shot into the corner for a point. Frabotta tries the same shot but his ball rolls just out of range. Croce tries the same shot, but a little faster and just gets the point on the back wall after a measurement. Wisniewski tries to break up the balls, but can’t do it. Pezzin also tries to hit it out, but he can’t connect either and ABV has come all the way back from their 12-8 deficit to capture their second consecutive Cleveland Challenge Cup of Bocce title by a score of 16-13.
After the game, Palazzo’s Pat Concordia paid the young ABV team a compliment, “…Those guys are tremendous players; (at their age), they are the future of bocce!”
The Women’s semi final game pitched the Sons of Italy from Ashtabula against Troy New York’s, Dianna’s Girls. The Son’s of Italy were undefeated and needed the one victory to claim the championship. With one loss, but determined - Dianna’s Girls lead 3-1 early in the match. The game was tied at 4 when Dianna’ s Girls bolted into a strong 10-4 lead. Still determined they scored the last 4 points to win 14-4 forcing a championship game.
The final game was a seesaw battle with the Sons of Italy taking a 2-0 lead. Dianna’s scored the next 4 and lead 4-2. The Sons came back to within 1 of 4-3. Dianna’s took the next 5 points and lead 9-3. The Sons came roaring back and tied the game at 9. Dianna’s Girls scored 1 in each of the next tightly rolled games and claimed a 12-9 lead. Again the Sons fought back and rolled a 3 ball for the tie at 12. With the crowd watching with anticipation for the final rolls Dianna’s Girls didn’t disappoint. They took the next two rolls scoring the final 4 points claiming their second championship in Wickliffe in two years. The game lasting almost an hour and a half showed the skills of these fine women players. Both teams had much to be proud of.
(l-r): Dianna’s Girls: Irene Panara, Team Captain Annmarie Zakala, Diana Cianfrocco, Cheryl Iacone, Club President Rick Continenza and Tournament Director Gino Latessa.
Eight community groups played in the I&A Club’s Invitational Bocce Tournament on Sunday morning August 30th. The teams included: The City of Wickliffe, Laketran, Leadership Lake County, Lake Metroparks, Lake Health, U.S. Marshals Service and the Wickliffe Public Schools.
The semi final games included U.S. Marshals vs. City of Wickliffe. The Marshals won 11-9. In the other hotly contested game Lake Metroparks outlasted Key Bank 11-10.
For the championship game the U.S. Marshals struck early for quick 3-0 lead. Leading 3-2, they scored another hat trick and went up 6-2. Not to be outplayed, Lake Metroparks rolled a 3 and eventually tied the game at 7-7. Metroparks retook the lead at a 9-7 lead and never looked back winning 11-8.
(l-r): Club President Rick Continenza with members of the winning team, Lake Metroparks: Frank Polivka, Tom Weis, John Redmond, and Judge Mark Bartollotta.