By Jon Hawley
Sunday, April 22, 2018
Cold brews, hot barbecue and a new tournament proved a winning trifecta for the Albemarle Area United Way on Saturday when it hosted “Bocce, Beer and Bites.”
The first-ever event drew hundreds of people to Waterfront Park in Elizabeth City, where teams of four competed in a bocce tournament serving as this year's major fundraiser for the Albemarle Area United Way. The AAUW is an umbrella organization serving 19 nonprofits across 13 counties, and Bocce, Beer and Bites is serving as its major fundraiser this year.
The event came together well and enjoyed stronger-than-expected community support, AAUW Executive Director Bill Blake said Saturday. The AAUW planned for 32 teams, but there was so much interest the tournament expanded to 46 teams – and had to stop there.
“We had people trying to get tickets yesterday,” Blake said. He noted that Albemarle Plantation alone fielded 12 teams, and even chartered a bus at its own expense so team members could drink and ride home safely.
He estimated the AAUW would raise more than $17,000, based on ticket sales to players and spectators and donations.
Many teams really got into the tournament, Blake added, pointing to their custom shirts and creative names.
Among those teams was “De-bocce-ry,” whose members credited Frank Milwaukee and Jeff Hall for conceiving the pun. Hall said his team members all worked in air traffic control at the U.S. Coast Guard Base, and they jumped at the chance to join the tournament.
“Besides being into the game of bocce, it's a worthy cause,” he said, noting team members have played the game before.
Bocce is played on a lawn or court, and involves tossing balls as close as possible to a jack or boccino. Teams pick up points based on the balls' positioning relative to the boccino, and can gain advantage by knocking it or other balls around.
In it to win it Saturday were Sentara Albemarle Medical Center employees, who hospital spokeswoman Annya Soucy said fielded several teams. Soucy herself planned to play as a member of “Young Bowlers,” and said the hospital's competitors, among them hospital President Coleen Santa Ana, had been honing their bocce skills during lunch breaks.
She also said Sentara and its employees are major United Way supporters, raising thousands annually for the event.
Another team, Cafe Catastrophe, stood out by wearing matching beer helmets. The team represented popular downtown coffee shop Muddy Waters. The team also raised funds for the AAUW in January.
U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Randy Meador also participated in the bocce event, albeit as an organizer, not a competitor. An AAUW board member, he praised how the event came together, and said he's long believed in the United Way and the many groups it supports.
Providing the “beer” and “bites” for the event were Ghost Harbor Brewing Company – a hit with Norris Raby and his team, “Here for Beer” – and Currituck BBQ.
Blake said he hoped to hold the event next year, but would base that decision on feedback from teams and attendees. He noted Bocce, Beer and Bites is an alternative to AAUW's prior annual fundraiser, Dancing Under the Stars, which he said is a more formal, “niche” event.