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What is the game where a round, baseball-size, metallic ball weighing a pound and a half is thrown at a small target ball and is enjoyed by millions around the world?  Yes, it is the wonderful game of French origin called pétanque – and it is played right here in Church Hill, Richmond, VA.

Pétanque is one of Europe’s most popular outdoor games and is a cousin of both horseshoes and of the Italian bowling game called ‘bocce’. Pétanque is played on over 60 countries and its popularity is growing in the USA with 60 clubs throughout the country.

The name pétanque is derived from the French expression pès tancats meaning ‘feet together or more exactly ‘feet anchored’.  It was invented in the early 1900s by a café owner in Provence, France to accommodate a French jeu provençal player whose rheumatism prevented him from running before he threw the ball.  In the new game, the length of the pitch or field was reduced by roughly half, and a player no longer engaged in a run-up while throwing a ball—he stood, stationary, in a circle.

In early 2005 twelve Church Hill residents responded to an article in the Church Hill Association Newsletter and met in Patrick Henry Park to learn about the game of pétanque. That was just the beginning.  Les Boulefrogs of Church Hill Pétanque Club celebrated its tenth anniversary this spring.   Looking for a suitable terrain on which to play, the club found that some of the gravel alleys in the area were similar to the terrains in Europe. Pétanque can be played on just about any patch of land that is relatively flat.   Through word-of-mouth the club grew in membership and with the support of the Richmond Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities (PRCF) the club members moved out of the alleys and built two courts in Chimborazo Playground.  An article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch resulted in more interest in the game, especially by those with a French connection through travel or education.  Les Boulefrogs joined the Federation of Pétanque USA (FPUSA) in 2006.  The club now has fifty members from 16 to 75 and from all over greater Richmond from Colonial Heights to as far as Fredericksburg.

Pétanque is easy to learn, good naturedly competitive, friendly and social, and fun for ages and physical capabilities.  Les Boulefrogs play twice a week at Chimborazo Playground on Thursday evenings (6:00 PM) and Sunday Afternoons (2:00 PM) all year round.  We have several picnics throughout the year and a super holiday party. Anyone interested in the game is welcome to come by.  We will provide instructions, loaner balls (boules) and lots of encouragement.


This past Sunday, long-time Boulefrogs member Peter Sickinger earned the title of “master pointer” as his boule ‘kissed the pig’ twice in one round! Peter threw consecutive boules that ended up touching the cochonnet aka little-pig. This is like scoring consecutive holes-in-one in golf. Well done, Peter!Peter's Double Kiss 1

Eight new petanque courts have been completed.  We are now using the courts and have lots of room for new players.  If you are wondering what petanque is all about come to Chimborazo Playground (E. Grace St and 30th St.) Sundays at 2:00 PM or Thursday at 6:00 PM all year round.


Casey Dunaway, Mark and Karen Rankin Richard Taranto and John Whitworth at the Carniball

The group in the photo plus Alexandra and Jim Wunderly demonstrated the game of petanque at the February 25 France-themed Carniball fundraiser at the Richmond Children’s Museum.  At the formal evening affair, the guests were treated to French food, wine and music and even can-can dancers.   Many of the attendees were introduced to petanque (often confused with bocce) and showed promise as they tried their pointing skills on our improvised “court.”   Lots of good-natured competition was enjoyed by all.

We are awaiting the renovations to the new courts to that will address the drainage problems.  According to Parks and Rec, the contractor is in the permiting process and work will commence as soon as the permits are approved.  In the meantime, we will continue to play on our two “old” courts and any of the new ones that are playable.

On February 14, 2011 Parks and Rec began removing the blacktop in the playground.  With good weather forecast for the next week the work should progress quickly.  The old courts are not affected except that there is no standing room on the west side of court #1.  Watch this space for photos of the progress.

Day 1 Photos:

Day 3 – February 16.  The plaza/petanque court area is moving ahead with spreading of 7 inches of stone dust.

Feb. 19 – Part one complete – laying 7 to 8 inches of stone dust for the playground central plaza and petanque courts.  Next up – installing the borders for the courts.

The Boulefrogs’  start time for Saturdays changes to 2:00 PM  on October 30 for the winter months.  We will return to 3:00 PM  in the spring.

Vic tosses a winner

Thirty Boulefrogs and families turned out for our annual July 4 games and picnic. Despite the hot weather in the mid 90s, everyone enjoyed an afternoon of competitions and a delicious pot-luck picnic. 

The pointing contest was surprisingly won by Vic, followed by Mark who just edged out Benedicte for second place.  Mike Prescott impressed everyone with his shooting prowess with 5 out of six hits.  He was followed by Stan and Richard.  The picnic was a great success.  Special thanks to Karen, Pam and Kirsten for arranging the food and supplies and to Chef Mark for expertly grilling the burgers and dogs, expecially in that heat. 

After the picnic, the we held the medley competition where the teams were chosen at random for each game and individualls recorded their team scores (for and against).  At the end the players with the best points for/against ratios won prizes.  Benedicte was the winner, followed by Earl and Chef Mark.

Karen drops the boule

Check out Photos for more pics of the 4th.

Last weekent four Boulefrogs, Earl, Gigi, Stan and Richard traveled to Brooklyn, NY for the New York Petanque Open. To say the courts were challenging would be an understatement. The terrain was co0vered with pebbles the size of walnuts. Direct tosses and shots would often fly off in another direction. Even the top players suffered from the rocks, but they showed their skill by adjusting to the situation and they made some amazing points and shots. While the Boulefrogs finished out of the money, Stan and Richard placed 4th in the Consolante B and walked off with a bottle of wine each.

Even though many of the competitors were world class we had a great time. We learned from the pros and played 7 or 8 games with some of the best. Plus we had some great French food at some of Brooklyn’s best restaurants.

Check out the photos in the Photo section.