By Octavio Serrano
After her husband passed away from a rare heart disease, Cheryl Kasselman moved to PebbleCreek in Goodyear where she found solace in the bocce ball community.
“I really enjoy the camaraderie as a single woman in a married community,” Kasselman says. “This affords me more socialization without having to have a mate.”
Kasselman, 77, went on to become the president of the PebbleCreek Bocce Ball Association, which built courts designed to help those with disabilities. Now, PebbleCreek residents have a convenient and safe way of remaining active.
Kasselman, who relocated here in 2005, joined the bocce ball team, but quickly realized the courts were poorly designed. After the community removed four of the bocce ball courts to expand pickleball, Kasselman says it was time to act.
With her background in music and engineering, Kasselman designed recording studios. She parlayed that construction knowledge into upgrading bocce ball courts.
“In 2012, I started lobbying for the new courts, and I knew it would take two or three years,” Kasselman says. “We got them in 2015 and we had night lights for the first time, shades for the first time, and a building to house all of our equipment.”
Her fellow bocce ball players were in her mind, however, when she designed the courts. She wanted the courts accessible for those with disabilities.
Although the game’s rules may be tweaked to fit a particular club, they are usually consistent. According to the Bocce Standards Association, there are four players maximum per game, two on each team, and each player has two balls.
After a coin toss, one team will throw a “pallino ball” to begin the game. The players on the court then try to throw their ball as close to the pallino ball as possible. Points are awarded to the team members who threw their ball closest to the pallino ball.
The PebbleCreek Bocce Ball Association has spring, fall and winter leagues with more than 700 members. Kasselman says although the bocce ball teams can be competitive, they always remember to have fun.
The players also enjoy naming their teams with fun names like The Bocce Buds, The Bocce Bandits and the Bowling Stones. The courts offer day and night access for players who want to practice.
The club just celebrated its 20th year anniversary this February and it’s continuing its bocce tradition with new players. Prospective members can sign up at the Eagles Nest Clubhouse at PebbleCreek Golf Resort. Everyone is welcome, Kasselman says.
For Kasselman, bocce ball was a family tradition.
“We’d go to Mass and at lunchtime, we would play bocce all afternoon,” Kasselman says.
Arlene Ascensio, on the other hand, has been playing for about 10 years. She injured her head while playing bocce ball and it nearly cut short her hobby.
“I was so engrossed with the play that I walked backward, didn’t realize how close I was, and went over the back and hit the back of my head on this concrete,” Ascensio says as she points to the ground.
“Now, with these new gates, I can play, I’m relaxed because I know that I can walk right in and I can walk right out. It’s very important to people who have some problems and most of us do have some problems.”
These “gates” are removable sideboards that allow players to walk into the court without having to step over them. Now Ascensio doesn’t have to worry about tripping over them.
In addition, the courts give athletes, who are in a wheelchair or otherwise disabled, the opportunity to enjoy the sport.
“They can bring their little scooter in on the court and give them a ball, so they can throw it,” Kasselman says. “We have one lady in a wheelchair that her husband rigged up to PVC pipes and she puts it right in front of her. She drops the ball and aims it right where she wants it to go.”
Not all fun and games
The PebbleCreek Bocce Ball Association recently participated in the Fun Charity PebbleCreek Bocce Tournament to raise funds for Soldier’s Best Friend, a nonprofit that pairs service dogs with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
“We raised $1,750 and we presented them with a check,” says Carolyn Rota, the PebbleCreek Bocce Ball Association’s public relations manager.
Rota plays bocce ball, too, thanks to her retirement.
“Life after 50 has afforded me the opportunity to be more active because I don’t have to worry about getting up for work,” Rota says.
Kasselman concurs, as her role as president brought about the camaraderie and friendship she longed.
“I’ve never felt more alive because for years there was an emptiness,” Kasselman says. “I lost my husband to illness, so I’ve been widowed for 16 years and now I’ve got a purpose and a need that I can now fulfill.”
Kasselman is retiring after eight years of being the association’s president. She’s turning to golf, but bocce ball will always be part of her life.
“I’m not going out of here unless there is a toe tag on me,” Kasselman says.