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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!
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.