Clayton hometown hero: How bocce brought a community together

If you've never played before, the place to learn bocce is Clayton. The town has one of the most successful bocce leagues around and it's run entirely by volunteers.

"I never picked up a bocce ball before the courts were built now I find myself down there two three nights a week year round," said Rod Overstreet  who's in charge of facilities.

Out of a town of 12 thousand that means about 1 out of every fifteen people who live in Clayton plays bocce. Ed Hartley is part of an eight member Bocce committee.

“We have 180 teams ten players on a team of that we have 300 playing on multiple teams looking at individuals about 1500 of that about half are from Clayton," said Hartley.

But this is not just a story about that red little ball and the quest to cozy up to it. This is a story about community.  Almost every night all year long you can find people down here at the courts. The league is run entirely by volunteers from the Clayton Business and Community Association. It's the largest volunteer group in town with about 200 members. The bocce courts are a source of pride.

"A lot of people say they met more people and made more friends here in Clayton since they started playing bocce with the league," said Keith Haydon.

And in this yearlong league no one is left out.

"Our oldest player is 98 we have a 12 or 13-year-old playing we have people play who are blind and its really brought people together there is something in common that people have and its bocce," said Hartley.

It took more than a decade to get this up and going. Hartley and his wife fell in love with bocce back in 2001 and thought it would be great for the town they called home.  But three different attempts over about a decade failed so they settled for starting a league and playing over at the Concord courts.

Then one day Hartley got a call from Skip Ipsen, the owner of Skippolinis, the local pizza place in town. He offered land and a financial contribution if Ed and the Clayton Business and Community Association would run it.

"It took us a few seconds to say yes," laughed Hartley " What was here was a vacant lot and they were never going to build anything on it if this didn't work."

And you might say once the ball started rolling it didn't stop. 350,000 dollars in private money was raised with contributions from the Ipsen family and CBCA and in 2014 that vacant lot became the Ipsen Family Bocce Park.

"We were quickly overwhelmed we thought we'd have room for 50 teams and we had 70." said Hartley.

Plans to start slowly were scrapped.  

"We started out with just a summer league and there were so many people who want to play we started a spring league and that filled up immediately and still with a waiting list so we started a fall league," said Overstreet.

The waiting list still has hundreds of names on it.  And every year this league run by volunteers sends money back to the community.And no one in this town is taking credit.  Instead they credit the community. 

"This is definitely one of the best of Clayton," said Hartley.

As they say it takes a village or in this case a town and the only score they keep is on the courts