Vi at Bentley Village resident Joe Rovida fell in love with bocce in 2000. He was in Provence, France to visit his daughter, and one day after lunch with friends, the group moved to a backyard to play petanque, the French version of bocce. Joe had never picked up the balls before, but had a stroke of beginner’s luck.
“I had one of those days where I couldn’t do anything wrong,” said Mr. Rovida. “All my shots were great! I thought ‘I should quit while I’m ahead’ but a month later when I was back in the states, my daughter sent me a brand new set of petanque balls.”
In the 17 years since, Joe has updated his set to be regulation American bocce balls, and brought a whole new life to the sport at his home in Vi at Bentley Village.
Bringing Bocce to Bentley Village
Two years after finding his passion for bocce, Joe moved into Vi at Bentley Village with his bocce balls in tow, and saw untapped potential in the unused shuffleboard courts.
“No one was setting foot on them, so I went to management and asked them to put in a bocce court, and they did!”
Joe then set about teaching the game to his new neighbors. He hosted a demo in the auditorium, where he hoped to find a few people who showed interest in the game. “Sixty-eight people showed up! I couldn’t believe it,” said Mr. Rovida. Demand was so high to play bocce at Vi at Bentley Village that there was often a wait to use the court, so a second was built.
In April 2016, as a part of Vi at Bentley Village’s $80 million remodel, the community rebuilt the bocce courts bigger - and better. Today, there are three brand new bocce courts, stadium lights for nighttime play, six free-standing fans and a shade structure for summertime. All three courts were built to meet league-regulation standards.
“They put in fantastic new courts for us. It’s like a bocce stadium!” Rovida said.
Today, an average of 85 residents play bocce daily at Vi at Bentley Village.
Competing in the Southwest Florida Bocce League
The new, regulation courts allowed Vi at Bentley Village to enter the Southwest Florida Bocce League for the first time. They are one of 24 communities competing in the league, playing home and away games within Southwest Florida every Friday.
“Now it’s really fun to play. On Fridays I tell our players, ‘put on your game face!’”
For road games, Joe brings a deep roster of 28 players. “Most communities take their 12 best players on the road, but I don’t do that because we’re like an extended family here at Bentley Village. I include everyone who wants to play because I want everyone to enjoy themselves.”
Joe has even had uniforms created that state, “Vi at Bentley Village Bocce Team” to up the team spirit. “We were the first team to get uniforms,” said Mr. Rovida. “When we showed up, other teams would say ‘Here come the New York Yankees!’”
The league atmosphere is competitive but congenial. “Being in the league is really fun because everyone knows each other. We’re all friends and it’s just a fantastic social event.” Home games at Vi at Bentley Village bring out resident-fans, who cheer on their neighbors with every point. “The camaraderie is unbelievable!”
The Vi at Bentley Village bocce team is currently in sixth place, but, Mr. Rovida points out, there are still 12 games left to go. “The season’s not over yet!”