You know American Bocce. You know the red ball with the white ‘ab’ in the middle of it. You know Matt. You think he’s witty and has a great smile. Ben is so nice to you and always happy to see you and so you know him as your friend. You love Alicia. You know New Belgium. You know our New Jack heavy playlists. You know hot shots. Collectively, all of these parts create a pop-up good-hang centered around bocce ball. Keyword: pop-up. It’s time to get to know the courts.
We built a couple of bocce courts. We met some awesome people. We fell in love with the game. And then winter hit and we had a serious problem: how were we going to play more bocce?
We sought after a solution to continue our growing bocce leagues into the harsh Chicago winter and after exhausting a lot of DIY possibilities, we stumbled upon Packaworld, a company dedicated to the development, design, and sales of a range of portable sporting goods.
On the other side of the world, in Wellington, New Zealand, Peter Roberts had just successfully designed inflatable bocce ball courts for the Asia Pacific Special Olympics games. When we sent him an inquiry, he assumed we were involved with Special Olympics somehow. Instead he found a small business with big plans and a simple “1 or 2 court purchase” turned into Skype calls, business mentorship, a couple pallet shipments to a warehouse in Chicago, the development of recreation-sized courts (the courts we use today), reseller agreements, and even some shared living quarters.
We believe that there are several components of American Bocce that set us apart from our competitors but the unmissable centerpiece of our events and leagues is our equipment. The Packaworld Packabocce courts are easily portable and storable. Unlike some larger bocce competitions that do not use walls or rely on heavy, cumbersome equipment, American Bocce can fill a room with three bocce courts in twenty minutes.
Each court comes in a sleek luggage bag with a retractable handle, wheels, and additional storage space. The main frame goes down first, and then an additional piece sits on top of each back wall. We use a hand pump to inflate the walls, and then finish with a few Velcro straps. Everyone likes to ask why we don’t use an electric pump. Well there’s two easy answers there: 1. It only take about a minute of actual pumping to inflate the three pieces. 2. Body by Bocce; fifteen minutes of vigorous loading and unloading and inflating followed by five hours of cold beers.
Not only have our courts brought our community together in ways we never could’ve expected but they’ve served as vehicles for us to get to know other cultures, trades, and organizations. Together, American Bocce and Packaworld have forged significant relationships with both Special Olympics and the cruise line industry.
As aforementioned, Peter originally had the courts designed for Special Olympics play. Bocce is the 3rd largest participation sport in the world and the 2nd largest participation sport in Special Olympics. What started (for ABC, at least) as a seller-buyer relationship quickly evolved into something bigger than business. In just over two years, Packaworld and American Bocce have outfitted Special Olympics chapters throughout the world, from Hawaii to South Carolina to Israel to Australia (just to name a few). We’ve assisted in a Team U.S.A. training camp, officiated several bocce tournaments in Illinois, and in July of 2015 were Head Officials for the Special Olympics World Games; a week that none of will ever forget.
More recently, we’ve been learning the ins and outs of the cruise industry. When Co-Founder Ben Tudor first suggested bocce on cruise ships, it seemed like an insurmountable task. We filled out vendor forms, google-stalked, and sent unopened emails to anybody with an @cruiseship in their email address. But if there’s one thing both companies have in common, it’s persistence—and in October of 2015, Pete, Ben, and myself were knocking on Cruise Directors’ doors in Miami, Fl with a collective vision. Three months later, Peter and Ben were sailing from Fiji to New Zealand to Vanuatu (link to Ben’s blog) and I was in and out of the Caribbean, each of us programming the ships with bocce equipment and teaching guests and crew members the American Bocce way.
In a short amount of time, American Bocce has experienced a hell of a lot. In 2014, we posted some handmade flyers around Wicker Park with hopes of forming a league. In 2016, we sailed the world. So long as we can carry our courts in a suitcase, who knows where we’ll go next.