Holleman keeps bocce flame burning brightly

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Tom Holleman may not be of Italian descent, but he’s as strong a proponent of Italian culture and traditions as anyone, starting with the venerable game of bocce.

Holleman is the president of the Highwood Bocce Club in Highwood, Illinois, which the Wall Street Journal once called “America’s bocce capital.”

Holleman grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and got a master’s degree in information systems from DePaul University. He works as senior technology manager for Bank of America.

He and his wife of 32 years, Michelle, met during a blind date in college that he called “the most fortunate and consequential day of my life.” The couple have three sons in their 20s.

Holleman says he discovered bocce about 20 years ago, when a friend introduced him to the game and to the Highwood Bocce Club. “I fell in love with the sport as well as the family atmosphere at the club, and have been hooked ever since,” he explains.

At the core of bocce’s appeal is its ability to bring people together in a friendly, yet competitive atmosphere, he says. “Not many sports allow for multiple generations to play and compete together, with experience and skill being just as important as youth and athleticism.”

Established in 1969, the Highwood Bocce Club hosted the United States Bocce Federation National Championships in June 2023. That was the fourth time the club hosted the national event, in addition to having hosted many international tournaments, including the only Bocce World Cup and the only Women’s Pan American Bocce Championships held in the United States.

“We are renowned for our world-class courts and facility that is surrounded by a tremendously supportive and vibrant community,” Holleman says.

The club hosts a variety of social activities for members while promoting the game of bocce and spreading awareness of Italian heritage and culture. For example, “we celebrate Easter with the egg-cracking game of cocetto [also spelled coccetto], enlist members to make tortellacci for our dinners and events, and host a children’s Italian language class every Saturday.”

In the past 10 years, the club’s membership has doubled to over 800, and future plans include a major renovation of the club’s entry, bar and card room areas this summer.

Holleman says he “absolutely” loves Italian history and culture. He has visited Italy numerous times, most recently to attend the wedding of a friend’s daughter, when he also had the opportunity to visit with bocce club members in their hometowns in the Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany regions.

“I’ve had so many amazing experiences in Italy, including attending the Palio di Siena with friends, visiting balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano producers in Modena, touring the canals of Venice by gondola, enjoying the beautiful beaches of Viareggio, and attending Easter mass at the Vatican.”

The Highwood Bocce Club is located at 440 Bank Lane in Highwood. The club contains four indoor and two outdoor courts, a full kitchen, a banquet area that seats up to 120 and a bar with TV that airs Italian programming. Activities include monthly member dinners with entertainment, quarterly membership meetings and quarterly tournaments. The club is open to members only and the facilities can only be rented to non-members with sponsorship by a member. Membership is capped at 810 with a waiting list for new applicants. For more, call 847-926-8118, email highwoodbocceclub@gmail.com or click here.

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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