Bringing people together through bocce

Behind the Judy and Gene Jacobi Community Center on Tuesday afternoon, the air was filled with laughter, cheers and encouragement. Members of the Anchor to Windward (ATW) group and local seniors were engrossed in their third annual bocce ball tournament, organized by the Marblehead Council on Aging (COA).

A bocce player lines up the perfect shot. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

ATW is a nonprofit organization that has served adults with developmental disabilities in Marblehead for over 20 years. Its mission is to empower its diverse members — ranging from their 20s to 70s — to reach their full potential through skill-building programs for independent living.

What began three years ago as a new activity for ATW members has blossomed into a beloved annual tradition that unites people of all abilities through their shared love for the game.

“We have regulars who play every Tuesday. They’re the big players we often refer to. It’s a highlight for them, and many come out just to watch and enjoy the atmosphere,” said ATW Director Carol Marotta.

ATW currently has 22 active members participating in a range of activities from crafts to outings, primarily on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Three years ago, Marotta’s husband, Jack, volunteered to teach ATW members how to play bocce. These first-timers quickly took to the sport. Now, the annual tournament allows them to compete against seasoned COA bocce players.

“Every year, our members look forward to playing with the ‘real good players’ from the COA, as per the rules my husband taught them,” Marotta explained.

The tournament is characterized by a spirit of camaraderie and mutual support, punctuated by high-fives, cheers and shouts of encouragement.

ATW member Nikolay Kuzmin, 37, has been playing in the tournament since it started in 2021.

“At first I wasn’t good,” he said. “But now with the help of Jack, he taught me how to play.”

Players from both Anchor to Windward and the Council on Aging watch as a bocce ball inches closer to the small target ball. CURRENT PHOTOS / WILLIAM. J. DOWD

Pat McCarthy, an ATW support staff member, emphasized the social value of the event.

“After a certain age, many of our members don’t have many formal activities to join. This tournament offers a great social opportunity for them,” McCarthy said.

Pat Bibbo, the COA’s bocce coordinator, said the event showcases Marblehead’s spirit of community inclusion.

“We mix everyone up, male and female, and that makes our teams,” Bibbo added. “Everyone cheers everyone on.”

For Marotta, the sight of ATW members playing alongside COA bocce players is heartwarming.

 “It’s incredibly rewarding,” she said.

The COA initially called for 16 volunteers, but the community’s response was overwhelming — 27 people showed up to assist.

“This just shows what Marblehead is capable of,” Bibbo said. “It makes us proud.”

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