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Bragging rights on the line at Venable’s bocce championship

It all came down to two teams Thursday night.

From left: Summer associates Nick Mongelluzzo and Nick Rupkey face Facilities Assistant John West and Administrative Services Assistant Michael Garey in the championship game of Venable’s sixth annual bocce league. ‘We take it one ball at a time and we got lucky on a few throws, but it’s been a lot of fun,’ Mongelluzzo says.

From left: Summer associates Nick Mongelluzzo and Nick Rupkey face Facilities Assistant John West and Administrative Services Assistant Michael Garey in the championship game of Venable’s sixth annual bocce league. ‘We take it one ball at a time and we got lucky on a few throws, but it’s been a lot of fun,’ Mongelluzzo says.

The game? Bocce. The venue? A 10th-floor, rooftop terrace near the Inner Harbor. The players? Attorneys and law firm staff.

The Baltimore office of Venable LLP held the championship game of its sixth annual bocce league, or as the players like to call it, Baltimore Bocce Bash VI.

On one end of the 90-foot gravel court, the underdogs: two summer associates, Nick Rupkey and Nick Mongelluzzo, on team One, Two — The Nicks Beat You. The Nicks are the first all-summer associate team to make it to the final game.

On the other side, the seasoned veterans: Facilities Assistant John West and Administrative Services Assistant Michael Garey, on team Second to None. West and Garey are the 2010 bocce league champions.

The uniforms were button-down shirts with dress pants. The only striped clothing the referee wore was a tie.

The Nicks would pace pack and forth, pointing out where to throw the ball. West and Garey would look on, hands confidently on hips, waiting.

Each team won one game before they headed into the tie-breaker. A crowd of about 40 spectators sat or stood on the perimeter, sipping beers or slurping popsicles.

West and Garey took the early lead at 4-0. The Nicks came back to cut the deficit and soon the game was 7-4, before West and Garey threw their final winning ball to become the league’s only two-time champions.

“We don’t like to lose,” West said.

The winners took home gift cards and a homemade trophy: a wooden platform topped with an empty National Bohemian beer can, a bocce ball and a purple “V.”

“For Venable and for victory,” said attorney Ted Evans, the league’s co-commissioner.

The runners-up also received a trophy and gift cards in addition to the honor of becoming the next year’s commissioners.

And even though this year’s runners-up are summer associates, Evans insisted the Nicks would have to return next summer as league commissioners.

“We are scouring the bylaws,” Evans said. “I think they have to come back or do it remotely.”

Prizes were also given to the team with the best name. This year, Mission ImBocceBall took first place. Other contenders included Non-Ballable Hours, DeBoccery and 99 Problems But a Bocce Ain’t One.

Between 40 and 50 teams participated in the league this year, including attorneys, staff and operations employees, said Evans and Kelly Shubic Weiner, also a co-commissioner.

From left: Ted Evans, co-commissioner of Venable’s bocce league, presents the trophy to team Second to None, John West and Michael Garey.

“It’s great to interact with people you’ve never interacted with before,” Evans said. “You get to talk to people you are randomly paired with for an hour while playing a fun game.”

The two Nicks had varying levels of experience. Rupkey hadn’t played since he was 10 years old, but Mongelluzzo plays the outdoor sport with his family.

“I’ve been playing since I could pick one up,” Mongelluzzo said.

Garey and West had never played bocce before the league started at Venable, but have consistently done well over the years.

“It’s nice to take time out of the day to play a game and meet different attorneys and different paralegals and other staff members at the firm,” Garey said.

The league began when the firm moved into its offices on East Pratt Street. Venable’s Washington office already had an established bocce league, and Baltimore wanted to follow suit, Evans said. So, a gravel bocce court was built before the firm moved into the space in 2008.

“Everyone knows about Venable’s bocce league from around the law school and legal community,” Mongelluzzo said. “I felt like I was missing out if I didn’t take part in this.”

Bocce is an Italian sport, often referred to as lawn bowling, which involves throwing balls across a long, narrow court. The object is to throw a ball as close as possible to a smaller target ball, into a position to protect your own ball or knock your opponent’s ball.

The league kicked off its season this year with opening ceremonies in early June. The league had previously been using an old tape measure to measure distances between balls during the games. In honor of the new season, Weiner and Evans bought a new tape measure and cut the old one during the kickoff event.

“People have been cooped up all winter long,” Weiner said. “It’s nice to get outside and be social. It’s fun, even the competition is fun.”

The firm created an online bracket, and teams worked with each other to schedule their own games throughout the week. In each match, the teams played the best of three games. Each game was played to eight points.

“Some play at 7 in the morning, some play games at 7 at night,” Evans said.

Some teams practice, others just show up. Some have played for years, and others have never thrown a bocce ball before, Evans and Weiner said.

“It all depends on the level of seriousness,” Evans said. “Some people have never played. … Other folks, once they see the bocce brackets go up, they are out there during their lunch hour throwing balls around.”

Mongelluzzo, a second-year law student at University of Virginia School of Law, said he is used to playing on grass with his family, so he spent some time practicing on the unfamiliar surface before the first game. Rupkey, a second-year at Harvard Law School, spent an hour practicing, since he hadn’t played for a while.

“We take it one ball at a time and we got lucky on a few throws, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Mongelluzzo said.

Evans and Weiner said no other event at the office gathers so many people at the firm together.

“It does create an opportunity to mix and mingle with people you only talk with over phone or your paths don’t cross,” Weiner said.

Evans said the Baltimore office hopes to eventually take the competition south for the ultimate championship game between the winning teams in Baltimore and Washington.

“We have found little that’s as effective at getting the firm together as this, that’s firm wide,” Evans said. “Everybody in every facet participates.”