The Seventh Phase of Bocce
By Alex Gara
Jamal Hadi teaches physical education at Talash School in Zanjan, a small city four hours northwest of Tehran. Iran's paying increased attention to children with special needs, and many of Hadi's students are in the Zanjan Children's Exceptional Education Department.
While some teachers accepted low participation in sports as a reality of teaching children with varying physical and intellectual conditions, Hadi wanted to find a game that could be embraced by the entire class. After lots of searching, he discovered an inclusive activity that would raise his class’s participation levels: bocce ball.
Hadi was pleased that the less physically active students took to the game as well as they did, but it was the unexpected results that elated him. Hadi witnessed parents, family members, and teachers play with the same vigor as the children, and realized he had something special. Hadi noted, “I love children and teaching children sports but the reality is that most of the adults don’t play with the children. With the sport of bocce, children and adults play together with the same great desire.”
It was that realization that prompted Hadi and his peers to create Bocce Ball First in Iran, an organization committed to growing the sport throughout Iran, centered around children and adults alike.
Because few people in Iran were familiar with the game, Hadi began demonstrating the game directly to decision makers, department heads, and interested parties. He headed from province to province, spreading the joy of the game and picking up ambassadors along the way. The organization now helps put on events, tournaments, and incorporate bocce into school curricula throughout Iran.
Its efforts are being supported in Kerman in southern Iran, Nishapur in the northeast, the historic city of Yazd in central Iran, and was recently registered with the Iranian Ministry of Sports. Now that he has the backing of the Ministry of Sports, Hadi hopes to accelerate his multi-phase plan to create a strong bocce ball presence in Iran.
Hadi outlined all six phases as follows:
Phase I: Children with intellectual, cognitive, and physical disabilities, as well as the deaf and blind.
Phase II: The elderly
Phase III: Social play for adults
Phase IV: Retired professional athletes
Phase V: Competitive events and tournaments for all ages
Phase VI: Grooming National heroes
Hadi was initially worried about the economics of building a national sport from scratch. Upon introducing bocce, he often received pushback on how much it might cost. This forced him to quickly improvise with variations of the game that were activated without much financial concern. By providing versions of the sport on carpet and in parks, Hadi’s early goals were easily achievable.
Much like here in the United States, there seems to be a disparity between recreational bocce and competitive bocce. That means as he explores the bigger picture, he continues to have to adjust and adapt. For example, he has recently been frustrated by a lack of resources, direction, or expert opinion on professionalizing the game. As Hadi explains, “the World Federation does not provide training or resources on how to build professional courts and professional settings.”
But Hadi’s passion for the game and ambitious spirit have him digging deeper for connections and support. He found other ways to learn about the sport, like forging friendships in North and South America, including competitive circuits in Brazil, and our very own recreational leagues in American Bocce Company. He went on to say, "If there were a Phase VII, it would be bringing all cultures together through the many forms of bocce."
For those leading the sport of bocce ball in the 21st century, it seems that many share an intrinsic connection to the game. In Hadi’s case, much like a bocce ball, once he got rolling, he kept rolling.
It’s easy to see how special needs students take to a sport for the first time in their young lives, or how parents playing alongside their children with passion can motivate Hadi. It’s even easier to see how bocce ball became this humble gym teacher from Zanjan City’s calling. I simply had to ask, “Why?”
Hadi’s response: “Humans have no greater duty than to make and create happiness.”