Rita Rapella, Steve Jusick Repeat as Beach Haven Bocce League Champions

By DAVID BIGGY | Aug 30, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Rita Rapella (left) and Steve Jusick show off the Mike Vitulli Cup after repeating as champions of the Beach Haven Bocce League on Aug. 26.

To many who play in the Beach Haven Bocce League, Rita Rapella is a skilled artist. To others, she’s a deadly assassin. Either way, she’s a darned good player and a champion yet again.

“She’s awesome. That’s all there is to it,” said Jerry Rote, after he and teammate Robin MacMillan dropped a 2-0 contest to Rapella and Steve Jusick in the league’s championship match, held on the grounds of Joan Barron’s Beach Haven home on Aug. 26. “It makes you nervous playing against her because it’s hard to figure out what to do to beat her. In this game, there’s a lot of luck. But with Rita, there’s a lot of skill.”

Rote certainly knows – the two were partners for several years and won multiple titles. Barron eventually separated them because they had become too dominant.

“Rita is a dominant player no matter who she’s paired with,” Rote said. “I scored a 4 in one round today, and that was all luck. When she scores a 4, it’s mostly skill, and she plays like that all the time.”

On two occasions during Saturday’s championship clash, Rapella dropped the hammer on her opponents. With her and Jusick – the defending champions – up, 7-6, in the first game, Rapella delivered three points in what turned out to be her final set of throws, as Jusick notched the game-ending point during his subsequent turn.

To start the second game, Jusick and Rapella each scored two points during the opening two rounds. After Rote and Rapella traded points during the third round, Jusick started the fourth round with a point, pushing his team’s lead to 6-3. That’s when the skilled artist struck like an assassin.

After tossing the pallina – the “target ball” toward which each player rolls their four larger balls, attempting to place them nearest to it to score points – about two-thirds of the way down the court, Rapella rolled her first ball about 6 inches directly in front of the pallina. After MacMillan’s first ball stopped well short, Rapella placed her next ball a few inches to the right of her first, setting up a solid block.

Hoping to start bouncing at least one of Rapella’s blockers away from the pallina – a maneuver known as “spocking” – MacMillan’s next ball also stopped well short of either ball, allowing Rapella to continue scoring. She did, using a gentle spock to place her next ball while pushing her second ball just behind the pallina. Desperate to try to score, MacMillan fired a hard-rolling shot in an attempt to spock, but her ball glided wide. Rapella then placed her final ball within a few inches of her first. MacMillan’s last ball wasn’t, and the Rapella-Jusick team scored four points.

With only one more to get, Jusick rolled a beautifully placed ball within an inch of the pallina and sealed the victory during his next turn, completing an unanswered 6-0 spurt to repeat as league champs. The best-of-three-games match lasted about 39 minutes. The title was Rapella’s eighth during the 25 years of the league’s existence.

“I don’t practice and I don’t play a lot,” said Rapella, a Realtor with Diane Turton Realtors. “I only play when we play our matches here. I’m a little competitive and do my best, but I don’t pull my hair out if  we lose. Whatever the result is, is what it is. It’s for fun.”

Interestingly, Rapella grew up in Morbegno, Italy – in the northern part of the country, about 10 miles south of the Swiss border – but didn’t play bocce until she came to the United States, despite the fact her grandfather used to play on the court next to his restaurant. Then, during the early 1990s, Art and Joan Barron’s friend Mike Vitulli, for whom the Beach Haven Bocce League championship trophy is named, invited Rapella to play.

“Mike said, ‘You’re Italian so you must know how to play. Come on and play.’ I didn’t know how to play, but I picked it up fast,” Rapella said. “I was good right away.”

Much to the chagrin of many of the league’s other players, apparently.

“Rita’s very consistent,” said Jusick, who one year, when teamed with the court’s hostess, defeated Rapella’s team in the championship match. “All you have to do is get close to the pallina, and Rita’s very good at consistently getting a few balls really close. And scoring points in bunches is how you win. The first ball is pretty important, and Rita’s a pro at getting that first ball really close and then working it from there.”

Despite the loss, MacMillan was pleased with her partnership with Rote, as they reached the championship in their first season playing together. MacMillan had barely played bocce before this season.

“The last time we played against Rita and Steve, we split the first two games and there were four lead changes before they got us in the third game,” MacMillan said. “This match ended a lot sooner than we were hoping, but we had a really good season. Our only loss before today was to Rita and Steve, so my first time really playing this game was exciting.”

Wrapping up yet another season, Barron was complimentary of all the teams, particularly the two championship tandems. She was thankful for scorekeepers Bob Mignella, Barry Longenbach and Tom Butler, groundskeeper Cam Lyle and Pearl Street Market, which catered the Championship Day lunch.

“We play from the end of June until the end of August, and we really have a good time,” she said. “When you have 20 to 25 people here, enjoying the game and having that camaraderie, that’s what’s special about it. It’s nice to be surrounded by friends, having some fun in the yard all summer long.”


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