Craft Farms – Larry O’Brien Bocce League crowns its spring champions

Craft Farms – Larry O’Brien Bocce League crowns its spring champions
Randy & Carolyn Harkins, Tom and Jeanne Pettenato earn bragging rights

By Fran Thompson
I am certain that this is the first time in the 33 years I’ve been publishing a newspaper in South Baldwin County that I typed in a headline about bocce league champions. But there is such a league, and the team of Randy & Carolyn Harkins & Tom and Jeanne Pettenato are the champions of the just completed spring season.
The brainchild of commissioner John Ward, the Craft Farms – Larry O’Brien Bocce League’s late namesake came up with the idea while speaking from the podium at a Craft Farms golf tourney about 15 years ago when he solicited platinum member donations to build bocce courts on one of the Craft Farms tennis courts. When that effort fell short, O’Brien offered gold memberships to raise the remaining funds.
Although he was still living in California at the time, Ward was already a Craft Farms member and a bocce aficionado who had installed courts at all of his houses from North Jersey to Pebble Beach. His 85 year old grandmother especially loved playing the game with her grandkids. Ward helped his friend oversee the Craft Farms maintenance crew with the court construction.
The first league started in the heat of the summer, an obvious mistake. And interest wained even more after O’Brien’s death, with the courts void of kisses, volos, jacks and fours until Ward re-started the league in the spring of 2019 with a player friendly format that allowed each four person team to compete with two players if necessary, and play one match during the nine week season with just one player, which can actually be an advantage depending on who that player is.
“The idea is to avoid forfits and to allow people to take vacations or take a break for a week or two knowing that the league is going to be here when they get back,’’ Ward said.
Ward, who also directs a couple of one day fun tourneys every year, let’s players pick between Monday and Wednesday, and he tries his best to balance the 4-person teams while keeping married couples together (if they wish). More than 80 players participated this spring and the format could run just as smoothly with 120 players, according to the commissioner.
Players are welcome to bring beverages to matches and many of them do. There is no doubt that the league has helped forge friendships and lifted spirits in a community that is dominated by retirees.
And although the bottle of aged brown liquor the players gave him as a gift for being commissioner was nice, it is seeing the fun people have while playing a game he was been around since childhood that gives him the most satisfaction.
Pictured: League Champs (L to R) Randy Harkins, Jeanne Pettanato, Commissioner John Ward, Carolyn Harkins and Tom Pettenato.