It (Sorta) Happened One Afternoon. Maybe.

[Some of what you’re about to read is based on true(ish) events …]

Outlined against a blue-light blue July sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Jordan Lesso, Sarah Hanley, Uncle Rich and Billsy. They formed the crest of the Watkins Glen cyclone before which another fighting bocce team was swept over the precipice of Keuka Lake Thursday afternoon as 20 spectators peered at the bewildering panorama spread on the green grass beneath them.

Okay, okay. Notre Dame-Army 1924 it was not. And Grantland Rice I do not claim to be. But still, it was one hell of an afternoon bocce tournament.


Please stand for the off-key singing of our National Anthem.

It started, as do most great stories and likely all bocce tournaments, with drinking. Beer. Wine. Bug’s Blender Surprise. Ever the foreward-thinking hosts, Aunts Susan and Pearl busily squirreled away the Bordeaux in a trunk for a post-match celebration.

In short order, the participants’ minds were properly lubricated, their bodies uncalibrated. Soon, the smack talking commenced, followed by the selection of teams by random draw. (Or so the New Girl was led to believe.) Then more drinking, trash talking, in-fighting and the singing of The Star Spangled Banner.

As they do every year, the contestants came from far and away. Friends from Elmira and Ithaca, cousins from Canada and Brooklyn, a sister named Fred and her beau from Jersey City, all to test their wit, skill and the flex of their right wrists in a tournament to top all tournaments: The Annual Hanley Family 4th of July Bocce Tournament. Or the AHF4JBT for short.

They came wearing ironic T-shirts, American flag deely boppers or very little at all. These players came to be noticed, to stand out. One gentleman went so far as to propose to his girlfriend—a coveted member of the Hanley Clan—mere weeks before the event, both to insure his place in the annual gala and to swipe a bit of conversational thunder from last year’s defending champions. (Congratulations, Norah and John!)


Bomber brings the noise.

As they have every July 4th since Uncle Bubby dug his world-class lakeside course, they came for a shot at drinking from the coveted Hanley Cup and asserting 365 days of familial dominance. Oh … right … and to celebrate that whole independence from Britain thing. Yay, fireworks!

This year was no different. They came. They drank. They bocce’d. But this year, the Hanleys invited an outsider — and one with her own blog, a long plane ride home and an overactive, self-aggrandizing imagination — into their midst.

By game’s end, this stranger knew why she had been brought here, to this magical land by the lake: to write about one team, a team of legend. A team filled with promise and players and Pat Hanley, a former champion. A team with  chemistry not seen since the 125-win 1998 Yankees. A team that would surely, one day pose for magazine covers (ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue 2014?!), and a feature in Bocce Weekly.

That team, of course, was Team 3. Alana, Alyssa, Mary and Pat. But this isn’t a story about greatness.

It’s a story about the team that won.


The Commissioner presents the 2014 winners with the coveted Hanley Cup. “Don’t drink from it! It’s filled with bugs! Just like the hats!!”

And that team, of course, was Team 1. The Four Horsemen (Horsepeople?) of the Finger Lakes. Sarah. Jordo. Billsy. Rich.

In Round 1, they galloped over Team 6. [Hey Hanleys — How about livelier team names next year?] In the semifinals, they trotted around Team 3. And in the final match, they barrel raced and Gymkhana’d past the seemingly unbeatable Team 2, four players who earlier in the day posted the first 15-0 shutout in AHF4JBT history.

(This incredible statistic was recently verified by the International Bocce Federation, the sport’s highest governing body.)

The Team 1 defeat of Team 2 was the upset of the century. Bigger than the Jets winning Super Bowl III. Bigger than Douglas KO’ing Tyson. Bigger than the Miracle on Ice. This was the Miracle on Gravel.

In their defeat, the members of Team 2 were gracious. Nannette … Bobbi … Eric and David Bills. They didn’t go down easy. But they were humble. Honorable. Good sports.

“This is B—-**! I want a rematch,” said Team 2 captain Nannette Hanley. “I want them tested. All of them. I think they’re using PEDs. I don’t know what PEDs are. But if they beat us, they’re definitely using them. Give … me … that … Cup.”

Not to worry, Nannette. You need wait only 361 days till the next match. Team 1, glory is yours until then.


Be forewarned: This is what happens when an outsider attempts to infiltrate the Hanley compound … Anyone wanna let me outta here? It’s tough to type.


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