Ball Bangers

Leathery old men chain-smoke and squint into the Mediterranean sun. One of them lifts the bocce, a softball-sized wooden sphere, and tosses it toward the pallino, a smaller target ball. The bocce lights in the Italian sand, rolling close to the pallino. The opponent's task: to place his own ball closer to the target or knock the other away. The challenger moves to take his turn... And so it has gone for centuries with the sport of bocce ball. The game can be traced back to the Roman Empire, when soldiers played between battles. In the United States, it's most popular on the East Coast, where family members play between squabbles. "I learned it from some old Italian guys when I was in New Jersey," says Jerry Acosta of the North Houston Bocce Club. The group plays at various locations around town, including the Bier Haus (2523 Quenby), where there's always a court set up, and Memorial Park (off Memorial Drive), where Acosta and company assemble their own digs. "Sometimes we have cash prizes," he says. "One time, though, we played to see who would carry the cooler from the house." Molto bene. For information, contact Jerry Acosta at 832-512-7877. -- Eric Norvell

On Guard

SAT 7/17

We've all studied Pamela Anderson's, um, moves on Baywatch. Now's your chance to see some homegrown hardbodies frolic in the surf at Beach Fest 2004. It's some serious stuff, dude, with, like, corporate sponsors and everything. At the fest, some 200 junior and senior lifeguards will compete in the Gulf Coast regional competition for spots at the U.S. Lifesaving Association nationals in Daytona Beach in August. Events include a swim rescue, where competitors must race 150 meters to "save" a stranded swimmer; a rescue-board race around a 600-meter beach course; and the Texas Iron Man, which involves running, swimming and paddling. All that's missing is a David Hasselhoff posing competition. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 17. East Beach, 1923 Boddeker Drive in Galveston. For information, call 409-763-4769. $7 for parking. -- Greg Barr

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