George Callenberger bocce league notes 20 years

Drive into Bodine Park in Hughesville on a Tuesday morning, or stop by Van Rensselaer Park in Picture Rocks on Thursdays, May through mid-September and you’ll spot 32 people playing bocce ball — and they’ve been doing it for 20 years.

Bocce officially came to Hughesville in 1997. Dr. George Callenberger, a noted area physician, then retired, and his wife, Virginia, spent winters in Florida where they began playing the sport. They introduced friends Bert and Alice DeWire, of Hughesville, to the game, and they began playing in their backyards in 1995.

Loving the sport and wanting to share it with others, they planned construction of courts in 1996 in Bodine Park, with the support of the Rotary Club. Callenberger also visited the 39’ers, a senior citizens group, to introduce and garner more interest in the game.

Callenberger, Bert DeWire, Dave Bower and Joe Wheel, of Hughesville, built the 60-by-12- foot courts that same year.

“While the courts were being built, many people would stop by and play a game or two, and it was a good time,” Alice DeWire said.

Courts also were soon built at Van Rensselear Park in Picture Rocks. By spring of 1997, there were several teams ready to compete.

The League originally was known as the East Lycoming Hi Ho Bocce League. In 2003, players voted to rename it the East Lycoming George Callenberger Bocce League.

Bocce is played by two teams of four members competing against each other. The teams are split up to play at each end of the court. One player throws the pallino, a small white ball, making sure it lands beyond the midway line on the court. The player then rolls a larger, colored bocce ball, as close to the pallino as possible.

After eight bocce balls are rolled, the referee determines which color balls are closest to the pallino. A team can win up to four points in each set.

The game then switches to the remaining players from both teams at the other end of the court. Each game is 25 minutes long. Scoring four points in one set is a laudable achievement, and in the Callenberger League, players often perform a celebratory dance after that feat.

Bocce or bocci, pronounced “BAH-chee” in English and “BOH-chay” in Italian, originated in ancient Egypt, using heavy golden and silver spheres, then polished rocks. By 800 B.C, bocce had arrived in Greece, and from there, Rome, where they used coconuts brought from Africa.

Bocce’s popularity spread across Europe, and in the 18th century, made its way to America. Sailors and immigrants fashioned balls out of old boat ropes and played on the decks of ships. The orbs evolved into the wood, plastic or metal balls used today in the game.

Dean Schreffler, of Hughesville, and Barb Houseknecht, of Picture Rocks, both 87 years old, have been playing since the league’s inception.

“It’s such a pleasure to play. We all come to have fun, we become friends and we laugh a lot,” Houseknecht said.

“It’s exercise, fellowship and a good way to pass some time. I love it,” Schreffler said.

They’re a feisty group and love to hassle each other — all in good fun. You can count on hearing taunts between teams, like, “Can you even see the ball?” “We need a ref!” “You gonna shoot or talk?” “Be quiet and mind your own balls!”

Picture Rocks and Hughesville, though part of the same league, play on separate courts throughout the season. At season’s end, the top-scoring Hughesville and Picture Rocks teams play against each other for that year’s championship.

Current officers of the league are: Nancy Ryder, president; Joe Pisa, vice president; and Linda Stuart, secretary and treasurer. Kathy Fought serves as coordinator for Picture Rocks; those duties are shared in Hughesville.

Luncheon meetings for all members are held in the spring to reorganize and elect officers, and in the fall to recap and celebrate the past season and championship winners.

The first officers in 1997 were George Callenberger, chairman; Dave Bower, vice chairman; Ruther Wentzel, secretary and treasurer; and Mary Charles, coordinator.

Besides the officers, others who began playing the first year include names those in the Picture Rocks-Hughesville area may remember, like Bert and Alice DeWire, Nellie Myers, Helen Wheal, Marion West, Hattie Gleason, Kathleen Bower, Sam Reed, Bud Daye and Barb Houseknecht.

Other members were Wilma Smith, Mary Maciekewski, Jim Ritter, Thelma Bubb, Ruth Doran, Pauline Montgomery, Ruth Bartlow, Janet Kohler, Beverly Irion, Ruth Long, Dot Sandmeyer, Jim Feigels, John Hatch, Jim Wentzel, Joe Elliot, Bill Sandmeyer, Charles Gansel, Peggy Hatch, Dean Schreffler, Ginny Callenberger and Dick Thomas.

In 1998-99, more memorable players joined the league, including Dorothy Babcock, Martha Karschner, Joe Wheal, Agnes Bower, Cleason Hall, Doris Reed, Gladys DeWald, Doris Harriman, Alberta Fry, Glen and Vivian Derrick, Eleanor Schaffer, Corder Davis and Harry DeWald.

Also, Arlie Puderbaugh, Mildred Fraley, Annabel Danley, Florence Rider, Lois Rider, Robert Buck, JoAnne Hall, Eunice Stover, Mary Williams, Chip Shipton, Evelyn Bryan, Lorma Ferrell, Ray and Barb Spotts and Jane Girton.

Much of the league history was provided by Shirley Crawley, DeWire and Houseknecht, and from notes kept by Wentzel for the first 10 years.

New players are welcome to visit the courts and sign up for the league. Sets also can be bought to be played in your own back yard.