Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bocce Memories & A Salute To Carm Cassese

Having an Italian last name does not necessarily mean one was born with a Pauline ball in your hand springing from the womb ready to bowl some Bocce. As a kid we played Bocce from time to time in the grass in Sunset Park along with other games like Horseshoes and everyone’s favorite the ever-dangerous/now outlawed Lawn Darts.

It wasn’t until 2008 and 2009 when I saw what real Bocce was all about. I went to Youngstown, Ohio to participate in Cardinal Mooney High School’s Football Camp. The day before the camp, they hosted an all-day Bocce Tournament. This was the big leagues.

The owner of The M.V.R. Carm Cassese ran an outstanding restaurant and it seemed like the whole family worked there. Outside they had six Bocce courts with finely crushed stone, almost like a dust. The courts were superb; even and consistent in the roll of the ball.

At that event every politician in town was there including U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan. The games were intense and competitive and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was way out of my league. Playing in the grass at Sunset Park is one thing, this was something completely different.

It was a great day, but the highlight came that night.

After we were all eliminated we played one fun match. The other team was made up of Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel, Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops, Arziona Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops and ESPN Analyst Kirk Herbstreit. I was joined on our team by Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini, ESPN Analyst Todd Blackledge and MVR Owner Carm Cassese.

What started out as a game for fun quickly got very, very competitive. Jim Tressel was not going to lose if he could help it, but ultimately the owner Carm Cassese was the difference and our team won. The biggest complaint was that we had all the Italians stacked on one side.

It wasn’t that we had all the Italians, it was that we had the RIGHT Italian. This was after all his home court.

After the game we all sat down and talked football for another two hours while the Cassese family brought out plate after plate of pasta and sausage and every kind of sauce you could imagine. Each new dish was even better than the last one.

Sitting around with all those guys, talking football and eating all that food ranks among the best nights I ever had as a coach. Even though we competed against each other in the fall, this was a time when we put all that aside and got to know each other away from the stress of a big football game.

Sadly I learned that just two weeks ago Carm Cassese died of cancer. He will be missed by so many, many people. Every time I walked into the M.V.R. he’d come out and talk, and say hello and talk about my father. Despite his allegiance to Ohio State and Jim Tressel he always shared the respect he had for my father as a fellow Italian and for the way we ran our program.

Well I hope I said it to him enough and if not I certainly hope his family hears this; I had nothing but respect for Carm Cassese and his family and for the way they ran the M.V.R. I haven’t been in Youngstown in a while, but when I do get back out there I will stop in, have a big plate of pasta and, even though I do not drink, I will hoist and drink a glass of Italian Red Wine in his honor.