It's a game that has been played in one form or another for thousands of years, yet its popularity in North America has only recently begun to grow. The French are surely not particularly pleased that America has adopted the Italian name ('bocce' is the plural of 'boccia', meaning 'bowl'), rather than the French pétanque, mais c'est la vie.
There are several theories about bocce's origins, but most sports historians agree that Roman soldiers began playing a primitive form of the game over two thousand years ago. A small stone called a "leader" would be thrown first, then larger stones were thrown at the leader, and the closest to the leader would score.
Until recently, most North American proponents of the game were descendants of Italian immigrants, who still cling to it as a nostalgic vestige of the old country. Slowly but surely, however, it is beginning to gain popularity among those who simply appreciate the sport's relaxing and community-building qualities, and bocce alleys are cropping up in not-so-Italian areas (including Chattanooga, TN, where this photo was taken).
Here is one American who says, "Bring on the bocce!"