RUTH MCCLEMENTS ROLLS her bocce ball as Jo Ann Tucker watches.
RUTH MCCLEMENTS ROLLS her bocce ball as Jo Ann Tucker watches.
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For people in the know, the long, raised-bed wooden boxes in the backyard of All Saints on the Hudson parish in Mechanicville/Stillwater can only mean one thing: There's a bocce game coming.

For around 45 years, men at All Saints on the Hudson have been playing the traditional Italian lawn game at the church's bocce courts, calling themselves the All Saints on the Hudson Bocce League.

It's not just a man's game, though: Women in the parish's Rosary Society have been playing for 33 years.

"We play every Wednesday for about 17 weeks," said Blanche Spickler, organizer of women's bocce at All Saints on the Hudson. The men play a bit more, rounding out their season with 22 games, rain or shine.

In fact, the men's league hasn't canceled a game due to rain in years, said bocce aficionado Lou Marcelle, who gets the courts ready for play every week.

"Everybody's got to bring an umbrella," he said. If it looks cloudy out, the four captains of the league vote to decide whether to call it quits and reschedule, but that's a rarity.

The women's league usually does cancel a game if it's too rainy, but it isn't a heartbreaker for the team: Most of the members live nearby.

Angie Fusco lives right across the street from the courts. "I wait and look out the window till the girls come," she said, noting that she likes to eat breakfast before she walks over to join the rest of the league on Wednesday mornings.

The game of bocce is not complex. There are nine balls, four for each team and one called the pallino that gets tossed onto the court to start the game. Teams then take turns tossing their balls to see who can get closest to the pallino.

"It's pretty simple, but it's a lot of fun," said Deacon E. Gregory Mansfield, a member of the All Saints on the Hudson league who's also parish life director at St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph's parish in Rensselaer. "There's a lot of strategy involved."

Players often try to hit an opponent's ball out of the way, but "it doesn't always work in your favor," noted Anna Galerie, who's been playing bocce for as long as the parish has been hosting the games.

During the games, some of the ladies can get a little feisty with each other, but they swear it's all in good fun. Ms. Fusco jokingly admitted that her favorite part of the game is "beating the other team."

Games usually last about an hour and a half for the women's league. "It keeps us in touch," said Ms. Galerie. "We like the game, and it's a little exercise for us old people."

Most of the players in the women's league are in their 80s. Some are in their 90s and still hitting the courts each week. The men's league has a similar age range, though there are a few younger members, as well.

Lou Marcelle has been playing for more than 40 years; he joined the league when he was only 20 years old. He'd started playing bocce as a child.

"I just enjoy the game," he said.

Although other players also remember playing the game when they were growing up -- many, in Italian households -- quite a few are new to bocce.

"We were in a bowling league," explained women's league member Theresa Sgambati, but the women on the team decided they wanted to try bocce, so she went with them. "It's a nice sport."

Cathy John started playing in a similar way. Three years ago, she joined the league after being a bowler. She hasn't looked back since.

Rose DeVito considers herself "very athletic.

"I've always been involved in sports," she said of her membership in the bocce league. Besides, "it's something to do."