All I Need to Know About Government I Learned from Bocce Ball

I don’t usually brag about it, but my college roommate and I founded the Oklahoma Students Bocce Ball League of Excellence, and I served as its first captain. Perhaps you’ve heard of us? It is from our tiny but renowned enclave of bocce enthusiasts which I learned my first lessons in manipulating government to suit my own ends.

Prior to the stroke of genius which compelled Evan and I to establish the League, the University of Oklahoma mostly concerned itself with football. I haven’t been back in a few years, but assume that by now bocce ball has supplanted a sport played with a dead oblonged pig.

It only makes sense. You can play bocce ball virtually anywhere. And while holding a drink, no less. You can chat and meander around like golf, but unlike golf, the equipment is cheap and the skill curve involved means that world-class players and neophyte lobbers are often indistinguishable.

Hardcore bocce ball enthusiasts, the sort who lobby to enter the Olympics, require sand and a pit and regulation dimensions. But Evan and I adapted the game to “field bocce,” then tweaked our own house rules. We usually played on the South Lawn of our university, but we’ve also played it inside of the State Capitol. The most vigorous form of the the sport is “long-form bocce,” which we once played at another university campus. Long-form bocce is strikingly similar to shot-put, only with more rum involved, and sprinting at the end prompted by campus police.

Field Bocce, as mandated in the rules we concocted, is the only sport at the University of Oklahoma which included “dueling to the death” in its by-laws to settle a very specific and unlikely possible dispute. (This dispute never actually arose, although it nearly did, and Evan and I would have killed each other without hesitation out of respect for the game, had it come to it.)

The Oklahoma Students Bocce Ball League of Excellence sported a tiny but elite membership. At our zenith we had, perhaps, twelve members. But this did not deter us from organizing events such as a Parent/Spawn Bocce Ball Tournament, the Deck The Balls Christmas Party, or our widely acclaimed Bocce Ball Date Parties. One took place at a vineyard, and the other involved both laser tag and a magician. Beat that, frat boys.

Aside from its innate glory and fun, it taught us valuable lessons about government. The Oklahoma Students Bocce Ball League of Excellence was a legitimate student organization which we registered with the university and notarized and even hobbled a constitution together for. In fact getting the constitution ratified turned out to be an onerous task, and was my first encounter in life with actual dibble-headed bureaucracy.

The preliminary constitution’s list of organizational officers included a “Ball Guy” to “maintain any balls owned by the league collectively.” The university rejected this initial draft because “Ball Guy” implied gender specificity. Evan and I fixed this problem, then added “he or she” after each reference to the captain position as further evidence of our “open to women” policy. Then, for our own amusement, we shoehorned in hilarious jargon to see if they’d catch it. Here is an excerpt from the final ratified constitution:

After surviving an entire year as an official university-sanctioned organization without disbanding or inadvertently killing anyone, we became eligible for UOSA funding requests. Most other organizations petitioned for legitimate things like t-shirt money, stationary, or gas reimbursement to distance conferences.

As we already owned a bocce ball set and only had about six active members, we didn’t actually need any funding. So Evan and I decided that a decent goal would be to try and secure an exorbitant grant for pizza money.

Thus, on the last day of funding requests, I dispatched Vice President/Treasurer Evan over to UOSA to get us some pork barrel goodies. Evan, with a level of flourish which would impress any Greek tax official, arrived with a proper funding form complete with an itemized list of specific things the League required, totaling $2,756.

The funding request was a work of genius. Evan asserted the need for scuba gear in the event that bocce balls rolled into a river or lake and needed retrieval.

We could not determine if they make glow-in-the-dark bocce balls to play at night with, so Evan requested a scientific grant to try and build some. When the administrator on hand pointed out that the university could not provide us $700 to create “luminescent orbs by means of hamster balls and non-lethal uranium oxide paint,” Evan deftly pointed to the very next item on the request list: night-vision goggles. These, he contended, would allow us to use our present set of bocce balls and enhance overall safety and vigilance after dark.

Evan made his case with the university for half an hour or so, explaining the dire need for the construction of an indoor bocce ball pit, “investing” in a professional bocce ball trainer, a team-building leadership retreat, a golf cart, and a Capuchin monkey which could serve as both mascot and ball retriever.

Eventually, exhausted and highly irritated, the administrator said, “Look, I’ll give you $80 for pizza.”

We were ecstatic!

Eighty dollars!? We didn’t deserve anything! But now we could eat pizza for months!

The greatest coup, however, is when the Bocce Ball League of Excellence, a virtual non-entity on the campus, managed to hoist one of its members into the 2006 Homecoming Court. Homecoming at the University of Oklahoma is a big deal. There’s a parade, and homecoming royalty, and a king and a queen are coronated in the football stadium with thousands of cheering fans and returned alumni.

To reach this august inner group of homecoming aristocrats you must first be nominated by a recognized, university-sanctioned organization. Most other courtiers are vetted by groups like The College of Journalism, or Kappa Kappa Gamma, or other organizations with several hundred members and a history spanning more than two years. Of the vast pool of applicants, the university whittles the numbers down to a respectable dozen or so.

As Captain of the Oklahoma Students Bocce Ball League of Excellence I used my ex officio powers to form an ad-hoc Homecoming Court Nomination Committee. I appointed myself as the head of this committee, then didn’t tell any of its members about its existence. The committee, coincidentally, chose me as the League’s official nominee for homecoming court. And I made it.

The university didn’t wind up crowning me king. But I did get to ride in a parade. And I learned a valuable lesson about the government:

I can totally screw with it to serve my capricious whims.

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Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.


  • Bianca
    June 28, 2012 - 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Just so we’re absolutely clear on this, the height of your athleticism involved tossing multi-colored balls on a lawn while wearing a suit?

    • Heaton
      June 28, 2012 - 6:17 pm | Permalink

      I believe the height OF athleticism is standing around in a suit tossing around balls on a well-kept lawn.

      So yes.

  • Norman
    June 28, 2012 - 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Bocce ball also taught you that economists will intermittently show up, often smoking a pipe, but while they might have a few clever things to say they won’t make a single point and they have no instincts for the game. EXACTLY like government.

    • Heaton
      June 29, 2012 - 6:43 pm | Permalink

      What are you talking about?! I remember some tall guy telling us about a “prime mortgage crisis” again and again, but we were too drunk to listen to him.

  • June 29, 2012 - 12:35 pm | Permalink

    It’s pre-hipster Heaton.

    • Heaton
      June 29, 2012 - 6:43 pm | Permalink

      I wonder what post-Hipster Heaton will look like…

  • Kay
    July 20, 2012 - 11:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m still laughing. You should be president!

    • Heaton
      July 23, 2012 - 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! Maybe P. J. O’Rourke will run and choose me as his running mate. We’d be a fun dark horse candidate team.

  • Walter
    April 16, 2013 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Ah the Oklahoma Students Bocce Ball League of Excellence. The club fortunately still exists, and has continued to teach subsequent administrations valuable lessons on government.

    At this time, the League possesses three sets of Bocce Balls, one of them glow in the dark for popular Midnight Bocce on the OU Campus North Lawn. My year as President of the club, we were approved for something like $600 dollars or more from UOSA funding. We threw parties, we bought Capital supplies. We were politely asked to never request a copy of the constitution just to point and laugh at it.

    The lesson? An institution which has been around for a bit and has an official look about it becomes quickly inscrutable in respect to its financial demands.