The ABC League at Chop Shop on Monday nights has been the flagship league in Chicago for some time now. This late fall season we pushed the pinnacle of American bocce leagues to a new height of 32 teams. It forced Matt David, the newly instated commissioner (and writer of this piece), to think about league organization in a new way.
When he (read: I) emerged from the laboratory, there were two conferences and each sported two divisions. Nothing earth-shattering—let’s be real, it was fairly obvious—but it was a clean and workable solution to the yuuggge league “problem.” It also created a new dilemma: What to call these four divisions?
The geographical option that the other professional leagues use wasn’t an option. The Big 10 tried that Legends and Leaders nonsense when it first split into two divisions. They backpedaled on that pretty quickly, probably ’cause it was garbage from the start. In the end, I couldn’t find an example to model our’s after, so I went back down to the lab. Plenty of options were chucked aside—different bocce shots, artists most often in playlists, repeat champions, abandoned puns, and so on.
Eventually, I struck gold: Name the divisions after bocce legends that have left our leagues. In the Early Conference we have the Chefferson and Fisher Divisions and in the Late Conference there are the Noyes and Murphy Divisions. Now, I’ll share the stories of each divisional namesake with a blend of their words and my own.
Fran Noyes was the team captain of Palle Azzurri/Hot Cheetos and Bocces. Elliott may be the mouth of the team (“NICE SHOT, FRANNY!”), but Fran was the glue that kept the team together. Well, her and Malört. She moved back to California at the end of summer where she is now a lawyer for the stars. She did make a return trip to Chicago in week 3 of this season and ended up subbing for Snakes on a Lane and absolutely rocked it. Here’s her response to having a division named in her honor:
I’m honored to have my very own division named after me for a season. I don’t really know what to say, because I don’t really feel like my bocce career is over yet, but I’m super proud of you all for turning Wicker Park Bocce into such a success, and I’m thrilled that I had the chance to be a small part of that.
I remember signing up for the league at the dirt courts, trying to round up some friends, and not really knowing what to expect or how to sell them on it. I obviously ended up with a fairly rag-tag squad in Julia, Brian, and Elliott, but a Malört induced bond was formed and we would continue to play mediocre-to-momentarily great bocce together for the next 2 years. I also remember showing up to the old courts and thinking it was the cutest goddamn park I’d ever seen and I was not really sure why more people weren’t out there. So, while the sting of our championship loss may never go away, I loved playing out there and that’s obviously where Palle/Hot Cheetos really found its way.
It’s safe to say I was fairly heartbroken when the courts closed, but stoked to be able to play year around. Monday Night Football may be cool, but Monday Not Bocce is way more fun. It was a way for me to guarantee that I’d see my friends at least once a week, even if it was 5 degrees out. It also became a way for me to make new non-lawyer friends, which everyone needs in their life, and get slightly bombed on a Monday. So when I left at the end of the summer, I knew my bocce career was not over (think: “Let’s go CALI!”), but I did feel like I was leaving a community. In fact, Webb just texted me last night – in between texts about how he doesn’t believe in global warming and how he hates Hillary – that he misses bocce. We don’t agree on much, but we do agree on our bocce love. We’re sappy, I know.
What to say about the pretty, tall drink of water Will Murphy? He helped build this. He created hot shots out of thin air in a stroke of brilliance. He is the original Scott Sanville, which is to say Scott emulates but can’t replicate him. He’s a D-list Chicago celebrity and I mean that as a compliment. Those that have been in his glow know it’s a great place to be and he is missed by many in the bocce community.
Well, I’d like to think that I’ve been with WPBC/ABC since the beginning. From the laborious construction of the crystal courts; to cold calling vineyards, nursing homes and other recreational companies about the beautiful inflatable courts; to reffing and helping set up various leagues at Parson’s, Chop Shop, etc. Needless to say, bocce had taken over a large portion of my day-to-day for the better part of 2 years and it was fucking awesome.
Every Sunday of the summer I would roll out of bed, hungover as ever, but with such excitement because I knew the next two days were gonna be filled with bocce leagues. This didn’t just entail setting up, playing bocce, and heading home. It was an utter onslaught of social activity, drinking, pictures, eating, relaxing, fierce competition, and overall being ridiculous with both a fixed and revolving cast of great humans all sharing similar interests. Essentially the best kind of party imaginable. While they may be a little hazy, those summer days are truly the days that I cherish most and will never ever forget.
Like the human body, Wicker Park Bocce Club/ American Bocce Company is similar to a plant. It needs water, the proper environment, lots of care, and of course strong roots. Alex, Ben, Alicia, Matt, and the rest of the crew that has helped along the way have tirelessly provided all of those components and more in the building of this excellent company, assuring it to grow tall and provide enjoyment for communities for many years to come.
Long Live Bocce!
Thomas Elliott Bowman, aka Chef Thomas, aka Thomas Chefferson came into our very first league at Parson’s with an aura of excellence around him. The rumors started circling around him immediately. “Did you hear? There’s a professional bocce player signed up for the league. Can you believe it?”
Anyone that has played on the Parson’s courts knows that they are without doubt the least true and predictable surfaces we’ve ever set up on for league play. That didn’t stop Thomas from dominating, though. Whatever his professional bocce credentials, he came into the WPBC leagues and dominated. Find him in the ABC Hall of Fame and you can soon find him setting up ABC San Francisco, where he’ll probably continue taking people’s money in CA$H games.
I was just in Chicago and Visor and Oxtail mentioned that a division was named after me! I am honored! I think the best and completely contradictory advice I can give to all the newbs would be: don’t be a goddamn hero and don’t be afraid to throw the frickin hammer! I would have said my greatest accomplishment was owning the money games almost every week, but now it is definitely legend status in having a division in honor of me!
Brian Fisher also played in that inaugural Parson’s bocce league and kept playing straight through til he left for New York to open his bar, The Wilky. He was a stalwart, a titan of the game and an eventual champion. He also put in a Herculean effort to get the New York Bocce Club off the ground. He put two brilliant seasons together while working tirelessly to open up The Wilky and get other business ventures going. I’m not sure this man sleeps. If he does, he probably dreams of bocce.
His trash talk was second only to his skillful hammers and he directed the trash talking at opponents, referees, teammates and spectators. When he learned that a division had been named in his honor, he sent back some of the choice quotes that still float through his brain when he thinks back to the sun soaked days on the Parson’s patio with bocce ball and beer in hand.
“Ref…is that In?”
“That was terrible, can I give myself a hot shot?”
“Ref, can you focus please, this is an important game here”
“Not gonna lie, I’m worried about these Wispy Danglers…”
“I know we may be on the same team, but you need to step up your game”