BY: Telegram and Gazette, Marco Cartolano- March 22,2022
WORCESTER — After Daniel Chery let loose a red bocce ball, putting it close to the smaller white ball, the North High School head football coach had a message to his competitors.
“Let’s compete,” Chery repeatedly yelled.
Before he took his first throws during a late Monday afternoon bocce tournament, Chery admitted that he had never played the game before.
“I don’t know how to play bocce, but I’m gonna learn fast,” Chery said.
Chery was far from the only amateur to play in the first Polar Bear Bocce Tournament held at ‘Olo Pizza. The tournament, organized by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, raised money to support Chery’s North High football team.
Along with employees of the sheriff’s office, city officials such as Mayor Joseph M. Petty and City Councilors Morris A. Bergman and Kathleen M. Toomey attended the tournament held inside ‘Olo’s bocce court. Piccolo’s owner John Piccolo, former Department of Public Works and Parks commissioner Robert Moylan and Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy Alex Guardiola also took part in the tournament.
While walking into the restaurant, spectators were greeted with the sight of two sports cars in the parking lot provided by sponsor Enzo Motoring, and their orange and black paint job matched the colors of North High.
Supporting the positive
Francis X. Pisegna, director of the sheriff’s office’s regional reentry center, said that some employees of the sheriff’s office know Chery and heard that his team needed financial help to purchase new uniforms and better equipment, pay for salaries for new coaches and to afford a bus to take the athletes to the field on Lake Avenue.
“These kids are mostly from the inner city. They have really limited resources,” Pisegna said. “We wanted to support their positive alternatives.”
After Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis gave Pisegna permission to organize the tournament, the office began calling businesses and potential sponsors including Kevin Mercadante of Mercadante Funeral Home, and the ownership of ‘Olo Pizza in order to raise $10,000.
Several businesses and sports teams also donated gift cards and tickets for a raffle, including the Worcester and Boston Red Sox, El Basha, Wan Wang Restaurant and Meraki Coffee Dessert Bar.
The Massachusetts Pirates also set up a booth for the tournament.
Pisegna said Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. will also kick in some funds from drug forfeiture money when the donation is approved.
Chery said that he wanted to break even with the time and money he and others have invested in the football program. He credited Pisegna with being an essential aid in organizing the fundraiser and tournament as Chery juggled his other responsibilities.
“I’m donating my check back. I’m pulling money out of my pocket to make sure that we give these kids an experience where they can compete; where they can actually look like other football teams that go out there,” Chery said. “I didn’t want money to be a reason why anyone couldn’t play this great game.”
Outlet for underprivileged students
Both Chery and Evangelidis said that they believe sports like football can be a good outlet for underprivileged students that could keep them away from dangerous or criminal activity.
“Football is a great place to be able to teach them values they won’t get in the classroom,” Chery said.
Evangelidis, whose tall frame naturally led to him to playing high school basketball, agreed that sports can be a great opportunity for adolescents.
“For us, this feeds into my role as sheriff trying to always be involved with public safety and making sure people stay on the right path,” Evangelidis said. “Many times we deal with recovery issues at the jail and trying to make sure people who need help get it. The ultimate goal is to keep people from ever going down that road in the first place and I think high school sports is one of the best outlets for young people to be involved with.”
While it may not be the gridiron, Chery’s bocce game brought on its own excitement as he faced a team led by Ron Waddell Jr.
After Chery made a throw that put several of his team’s balls close to the white target ball, a measuring tape was brought out to see how many of his team’s balls were closer than the opposing team’s red balls with their competitors swearing that not that many balls were closer than theirs.
After Mark Leary, an employee at the sheriff’s office and teammate of Chery, saw Chery make the throw, he cast doubt on Chery’s claims that he never played bocce before.
“Dan must have went to some clinic before,” Leary jokingly contested.
The match turned into a heated competition that went to a third match with Chery’s team coming out ahead.
In the second series of games, Bergman and Guardiola’s teams played each other. The two sides got off to a rough start as they were not entirely familiar with the rules of bocce ball.
Bergman’s initial throws were also pretty off the mark before he found his groove and landed shots far closer to the target ball, to the joy of his team.