July 14, 2004
Don or Don Quixote?
Lou Marracci pushes Lafayette
to build bocce ball courts
By Joshua Kors
The flair with which Lou Marracci answers the phone reveals everything you need to know about Lou Marracci. “Marracci!” he proclaims, a lilt of joy in his voice, a soft trill to the r's, as if he were pronouncing a rare Italian spice.
For those who have been following East Bay politics for the last dozen years, Marracci's voice has indeed been a familiar flavoring. The 83-year-old Lafayette resident has campaigned against rock 'n' roll music and for library funding. He's taken on the phone company for failing to serve the disabled, challenged the wisdom of local land measures, and in a recent letter to the Contra Costa Sun, lambasted Californians for failing to recycle.
Today Marracci has a new crusade. He wants Lafayette to build some bocce ball courts. Call it a personal quest. His motivation, he says, is pretty simple.
“Well, I'm bored,” he said, before being interrupted by his own contagious chuckle. “I'm bored, and I have nothing else to do. I was getting so tired of hanging around the house. And then it occurred to me: I've been an Italian for 83 years, and I've never played bocce ball.”
To satisfy that competitive craving, Marracci constructed a make-shift court in his backyard, a truncated 30-foot stretch where he'd spend afternoons scooping his iron balls into the air, watching them tumble towards the target pallino. But when not even Irene, his wife of 64 years, would play with him, well, he knew it was time for Plan B.
In true Marracci style, the long-time Lafayette resident approached the city council. He made them an offer they could easily refuse: bocce ball courts constructed on public land — cemented, smoothed and maintained at public expense — for well over $7,000.
Marracci's offer comes as the city is squaring off against a $22 million deficit, a shortfall city officials expect to grow to $29 million over the next ten years.
“I don't want to sound like the wet blanket about all this, but really, I'm just trying to be practical,” said Jennifer Russell, Lafayette 's long-time parks and recreation director. “It's not even so much about the money,” she said. “When you get people behind things, things can happen. It's just that, on the bocce courts idea, Lou is the first one. Actually, as far as I know, he's the only one.”
To be fair to Marracci, Russell left the door open to reconsidering his idea.
“As I understood it, and my memory isn't so good anymore, but I think she said that if I showed up at one of her meetings with 40 or 50 people, well, we could raise a ruckus,” said Marracci. “So that's my mission.”
It's a mission he's taking to the street.
Two weeks ago he took a lawn chair to Ace Hardware on Mt. Diablo Blvd., where he sat in front of the store and told customers of an Italian tradition stretching back thousands of years, one kept alive by eight teams in Moraga, 90 in Concord, but none in Lafayette. Friday he repeated that effort at Trader Joe's grocery store, sitting alongside a homemade placard that read “Bocce Ball Sign-Up” in green, yellow and blue Magic Marker.
In the week between those displays, Marracci worked to rope in some friends, some friends of friends, some relatives of friends, even some friends of relatives. He also tried to recruit his banker.
“I went to the bank, and, well, I asked the teller, ‘Did you ever have a burning desire to play bocce?' And she says to me, ‘Bocce? What's that?' Oh my.”
His sign-up drives, he says, have been equally unsuccessful. Last Friday's effort at the hardware shop yielded only nine signatures. It's a shaky start to be sure, but everyone agrees: The legacy of Lou Marracci has yet to be written. And it is his neighbors who are now the key to its writing.
support or silence over the next few weeks will determine whether Marracci will
indeed be the don of Lafayette bocce — or the Don Quixote of yet another lost
If you're interested in bringing bocce courts to Lafayette or want to add your name to Lou Marracci's list of players, you can contact him at (925) 935-4626.
For more information about bocce, its rules and history, visit the United States Bocce Federation at www.bocce.com.