A well-known local bocce tournament, formerly known as the Anthony “Putt Putt” Petillo National Bocce Tournament, is turning 40 this year.
Founded in 1977 by Asbury Park police officer Anthony “Putt Putt” Petillo, his cousin and fellow bocce enthusiast Sal Caliendo, 69, kept the tournament going after Petillo died in 1987.
“It was always held on the Asbury Park boardwalk or in Convention Hall until 1992 when we were told the Grand Arcade had structural problems and was no longer safe. So we had to move it,” Caliendo said.
Since then the tournament, which attracted bocce players from around the country, has been held in Belmar, Long Branch and Neptune City.
The last tournament was held in Neptune City in 2007 but it is being revived this year and is now named after the individual charity that receives the proceeds from the tournament.
This year it is the “Paint the Town Pink Bocce Tournament” to help fight breast cancer and proceeds will go to the program at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune.
The tournament, which will host 60 teams this year, will be held on Sat., May 7 at Memorial Park in Neptune City from 8:30 a.m. and continue to around 7 p.m. Caliendo said there is still one team spot open right now and people can contact him at 732-672-1979.
Caliendo said the tournament now hosts two-member teams although occasionally four-member teams are invited to participate. At earlier tournaments, as many as 40 to 50 four-member teams would participate.
He said that the tournament used to attract bocce teams from as far away as California and Alaska but that it is comprised of mostly local teams now. Several charity tournaments are also scheduled for this year- all at Memorial Park in Neptune City.
“When Putt Putt died in 1987, I took the tournament on with the help of my wife, Liz, and we had a good run over the years. It was a lot of work and, after my wife passed, I didn’t have the help I needed to keep it going annually,” he said.
Caliendo, who was raised in Asbury Park but now lives in a retirement community in Toms River, has since remarried and feels he is up to running the tournament once again with his new wife, Donna, also a former Asbury Park resident.
“We are doing something good and that makes me feel good. We do it because we want to help local charities,” he said.
Between entry fees and food sales, a tournament can raise from $4,000 to $5,000.
“We have raised several hundred thousands of dollars over the years,” he said.