Make your own jacks

There are a number of reasons why you might want to make your own jack. You need only one, and the minimum order from Petanque America is four. You want a red jack, and Obut no longer makes red jacks. You want to save a little money. You can’t wait for the mail — you need a jack TODAY.

Here’s a suggestion. Go to your local craft store or woodworker’s supply store. Buy a hardwood ball whose size is one-and-a-quarter (1.25) inches in diameter. It will probably cost you about 80 cents.


Once you have your wooden ball, color it red with a permanent marker.


You’re probably thinking— It’s OK to be a little flexible about the size of the jack in casual play, but I would never use a home-made jack in an official competition.

But you don’t need to think of your home-made jack as a poor substitute for the “real” thing. You will find that the 1.25″ wooden balls are actually slightly smaller than 1.25″. In fact, they are just under 31mm in diameter. That means that they are within the 1mm tolerance of the official 30mm size. In short, your home-made jack meets the legal specifications for use in competitions.

So give it a try. I think you’ll find that your home-made jack is actually very nice.

Short-form games

Normally a game of petanque is played to 13 points, and it takes as long as it takes. This can be a problem when you have a lot of teams playing. Some games finish quickly, while others drag on. Teams that have finished their games sit around waiting for other teams to finish THEIR games. Families with busy schedules and limited time, may be forced to play one long game and then leave, when it would be much more fun to spend their time playing three short games.

So there is a genuine need for short-form games — games that can be played in a limited and predictable amount of time.
Transcarpathian Petanque Club 2007, courtesy

Time-limited games

The traditional solution is time-limited games. A specified time limit is set, and when it expires games must finish their current mene, and play only one or two more menes. If that mene ends in a tie, then they play ONE MORE mene.

There are two problems with time-limited games. The first is that in actual practice they don’t seem very effective in actually producing short games. The second is that playing against the clock introduces a new tactic to the game — running out the clock, aka stalling for time when your team is ahead. It is an understandable and perfectly legal tactic, but nobody really likes it.

Fixed-mene games

Philippe Boets prefers a different solution. It is quite simple. All games are played to a fixed number of menes, say six. The team in the lead at the end of the sixth mene is the winner. If the teams are tied at the end of the sixth mene, they play a tie-breaker, a seventh mene.

Philippe says that the Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island Petanque Club use this compact form, and it has worked out very well for them. Games played to six or seven menes are pretty predictable in running for 30 or 35 minutes. Everybody can appreciate a 5-minute break between games — it’s not so long that anybody is likely to get restless. Thirty-five minutes per game is enough time for a family to arrive at the petanque courts at 2pm, have a nice time, play three games, chat with friends a bit, and be reasonably confident that they can be out of there by 4pm-ish.

Philippe believes that this compact form has been a significant factor in the success of the Amelia Island club. The compact form makes it possible to make a reliable prediction of how long your afternoon of petanque will take, which is really important if you need to be coordinating the schedules for a family.

Short form games may not be appropriate for every club. Predictable scheduling is probably more import in a large club with many younger families than it might be in a small club of mostly older retirees. (On the other hand, every club would LIKE to grow, and younger players are the game’s collective future.)

Players who have always played in the traditional format may feel that it just isn’t… traditional. That’s why Philippe recommends using the compact form in new clubs, starting from the very beginning of the club. If players have always played short form games, that is what they will be familiar with. They won’t be inhibited by ideas of what’s “traditional”.

And scorekeeping is a little different. If you use a portable scorekeeper, like I do, you might want to carry a second one to record the number of menes played.

Philippe says that “compact format games with a set number of rounds” works especially well for club tournaments. Instead of a tournament being a grueling all-day endurance test, the entire event can be finished in two-and-a-half or three hours. In my book, that’s a Good Thing.

Reduced-point games

The third kind of short-form game is a game played to fewer than 13 points. You can play, say, to 11 or 9 or 7.

Reduced-point games have their uses. If you don’t have the time to play to 13, it can be good to ask your opponent “I have to leave by 4:30. Would you like to play a shorter game, say to 9?”

In general, however, reduced-point games don’t seem to be a very good way to keep games to a consistent, limited amount of time. If the two teams are very unequally matched, one team can reach 9 points and win in two menes. On the other hand, if the teams are very equally matched, and have to scramble to get just one point per mene, it can take 17 menes for one team to beat the other 9-8.

A brief history of petanque in the USA

I originally planned this post as a companion to The Birth of the FPUSA. My idea was to provide a brief overview of the growth of petanque clubs in the USA. Unfortunately much of the information that I wanted was not available on the web, and I could not complete the project. Rather than simply discarding the material that I was able to collect, I post it here now, as the skeleton of what I wish I could have fleshed out into a more detailed account. — Stephen Ferg, April 2015


Members of Le Mistral Petanque Club, probably sometime in the late 1960s

Members of Le Mistral Petanque Club, probably sometime in the late 1960s

The oldest petanque club in the United States is Le Mistral Club de Pétanque, which was founded in Worcester, Massachusetts (near Boston) in 1958. Later, it evolved into the current Boston Petanque Club.

The original founding members were French expatriates who emigrated from the Armenian community in Marseilles. The club is named after the famous cold winter wind that blows down the Rhone valley and through Marseilles.

In 1966, a triplette team from Le Mistral defeated teams from Trois Riviere, Quebec to win one of the earliest tournaments held in North America. Marcel Babayan, who passed away in 2004, was president of the club for 40 years and a major factor in the success of the club.

Members of Le Mistral in 2006. Left to right — Carlo Testa, Albert Kallanian, George Bogosian (throwing) and Brian Walsh

Members of Le Mistral in 2006. Left to right — Carlo Testa, Albert Kallanian, George Bogosian (throwing) and Brian Walsh

The next oldest club is La Boule d’Or in San Francisco, founded in 1959 by Jean Bontemps. The early members were mostly French expatriates — Jean Krauer, Jean Bontemps, André Martin, Armand Squitieri, Charles Nicolas


Photo courtesy of Monique Bricca, daughter of Armand Squitieri.

New courts in Golden Gate Park were dedicated in 1959. Before that, the group played in the Mission district next to 3rd Street. In October 1960 they had their first International Tournament, with teams from France, Canada and Tunisia. The Boule d’Or team played a Canadian team in the final game and won.


Jacques Biaggini

Jacques Biaggini

When Jean Bontemps moved to Washington DC in the mid-1960s, he and Jacques Biaggini founded two clubs, La Joyeuse Boule and Les Pétancoeurs de la Maison Blanche. Early members included Maurice Ebolitto, and John and Gisele Hill. It was probably while playing at one of these two clubs that Alfred Levitt met Bontemps.

Joe Acciardi and La Joyeuse Boule still play in Maryland. Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s Les Pétancoeurs de la Maison Blanche seems to have faded from the scene, to be replaced by the National Capital Club de Petanque (NCCdP) founded by Bob Morrison.

La Boule New Yorkaise was founded in 1968 by the artist Alfred Levitt, who later went on to found the FPUSA in 1973. In the the early days Levitt and LBNY played on the gravel paths in Central Park near 106th Street. Later they moved to permanent courts in Washington Square Park, and still later to Bryant Park. LBNY is still one of the most vigorous clubs in the country.


An APA brochure. The mailing address is a PO box in Washington DC, but the telephone area code (301) is in Maryland.

Following the foundation of La Boule d’Or, a number of other clubs were established on the west coast, including La Boule Joyeuse sometime in the 1970s, and La Pétanque Marinière in 1972. One of the founding members of La Pétanque Marinière was Armand Squitieri, who had earlier been one of the founding members of La Boule d’Or.

In 1973, Alfred Levitt founded the FPUSA in New York City. He was its first president, and stayed in office until 1985.

In 1976 Jean Bontemps founded the American Petanque Association (APA) (also known as PAM, Petanque America?) in Washington, DC. Its creation only three years after the creation of the FPUSA suggests that it was deliberately established as an alternative to the FPUSA… that is, as a national petanque organization that did NOT involve dealing with Levitt, a notoriously autocratic and difficult personality.


Note the club’s name in the upper left corner — La Joyeuse Boule — one of the two clubs that Jean Bontemps and Jacques Biaggini established in the DC area.

1982 - national championships, Washington DC

1982 – national championships, Washington DC

In 1982 a USA national championship (almost certainly the APA national championship) was held on the Mall in Washington, DC.

1983 saw the founding of another of the strongest and oldest clubs in the United states — the Los Angeles Petanque Club.

1986 and the birth of a new FPUSA
Joseph Ardagna

Joseph Ardagna

In 1985 Alfred Levitt was forced into retirement as president of the FPUSA. When the dust had settled, Bob Morrison of the APA and Hans Jepson, the new president of the FPUSA, got together and easily negotiated a merger of the two organizations. The result was a single national organization, the FPUSA as we know it today.

Jepson served as the interim president until a new president could be elected by all of the clubs in the new Federation. The new president was Joseph Ardagna, of the Portsmouth Petanque Club.

The opening of the Portsmouth Petanque Club, mid-1980s

The opening of the Portsmouth Petanque Club, mid-1980s

When the two organizations agreed to merge, Bob Morrison and Joe Acciardi began work on organizing the United States’ first international tournament — the Championnat International de Petanque U.S.A., which took place on the weekend before Bastille Day, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

1991 marks a milestone in American petanque — Philippe Boets started Petanque America, the first (and still the only) vendor of competition petanque boules in the USA. The little company struggled until, as Philippe tells it, “The Internet saved us. There’s no other word for it. Especially because the US was way ahead with Internet at the time. I think we in the US – the smallest market on the planet as far as boules were concerned – were the first to put a boules catalog online, shortly followed by an online store.”

A second major milestone occurred in 2003, when Boets and Petanque America sponsored the first Petanque America Open, which has grown into THE major petanque event in the United States. The Open was held again in 2005, and then in 2009 (along with Petanque America itself) moved to its current location — Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, Florida.

A few noteworthy developments in the 21st century

In the United States, petanque clubs flicker into and out of existence. But there have been several recent cases where a club has shown remarkable vigor and growth.

Bob Morrison worked with the Fairfax County park authorities, and by the early 2000s the National Capitol Club de Petanque was playing on dedicated terrains in Highlands Park, Arlington, Virginia. It was there that, in 2008, the first promotional video for petanque in the USA was filmed. The distinguished-looking gentleman in the opening scene is Joe Acciardi.

In March 2006, Tim Channell moved to Fresno, California and started to organize the Fresno Petanque Club. The FPC is remarkable for the speed with which it grew and the way that it has attracted members from Fresno’s large Hmong community.

In May 2008 Arsene Dupin moved to Austin, Texas from his native France. He found a small group that played at the French Legation Museum and they formed the Heart of Texas Pétanque Club which now plays regularly at the French Legation, Pease Park, Paggi Square and the Mueller Browning Hangar.

Outside of California and the west coast (the Portland and Seattle areas), petanque’s strongest foothold in the USA is in Florida. The state has many thriving clubs. Perhaps the most remarkable is the Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach Boules Club, which was established in 2010 and has rapidly grown into the largest club in the US.

The Zanesfield Petanque Club was established in 2010 in the tiny town of Zanesfield, Ohio. Truly remarkable community participation has grown it at an astonishing rate, and it is now one of the most visible clubs in the country.

Zanesfield Petanque Club.   Click for larger view.

Zanesfield Petanque Club. Click for larger view.

Jean Bontemps — the Father of American Petanque
When I began researching this topic I wasn’t looking for “the Father of American Petanque” and I didn’t expect to find any single individual that might be a candidate for that title. But as it happens, I did.

Jean Bontemps kick-started petanque clubs on the West Coast with the organization of La Boule d’Or in San Francisco in 1959. A few years later he moved to Washington DC and pretty much did the same thing for the East Coast.

After meeting Bontemps in Washington, Alfred Levitt went to New York City and founded La Boule New Yorkaise and then the FPUSA. Bontemps himself founded the APA. When the two national organizations merged, Bontemps was the father of one and the grandfather (as it were) of the other. Personally, I think that Bontemps (rather than Alfred Levitt) should be considered the true father of today’s FPUSA.

You get to be called “the father of (something)” partly because of what you did, and partly because your story provides a good starting point for the larger story that we tell ourselves about Where We Came From. On both counts, to me Jean Bontemps looks like The Father of American Petanque.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

How to watch petanque videos on YouTube

If you like to watch petanque videos on YouTube, eventually you will run across a video (like 2éme Demi-Finale PPF 2015 part 3) where things just don’t look right. The players may look too tall and thin. Or too short and squat. You may see the image on the left, when you know you should be seeing the image on the right.

The problem here is that the person who uploaded the video to YouTube made a mistake and uploaded the video with the wrong aspect ratio.

Is there something you can do about this?

The easiest solution is to go to and download and install a program called VLC. VLC is a free, open-source, cross-platform multimedia video player. It is safe and reliable. Download and install it.

Once you’ve installed it, you can use VLC, rather than your browser, to play YouTube videos. Here’s how to do it.

When you’re using your browser to watch YouTube videos, and you find one with a bad aspect ratio, select (highlight) the URL (web address) of the video and copy it (press CONTROL+C, or right-click and select COPY).AspectRatio_copyYoutube_URL
Then open VLC. On VLC’s Media menu, select Open Network Stream.

Then paste (press CONTROL+V, or right-click and PASTE) the URL there, and click on PLAY.

The video will start playing.

After it starts, an easy way to change the aspect ratio is simply to repeatedly press the “A” key on your keyboard until the video displays with the correct aspect ratio. If you prefer to do things a bit more explicitly, you can use your mouse to select Video, then Aspect Ratio, then the aspect ratio that you want.

AspectRatio_VLC_LoopIf you really want to study a video, VLC has a couple of other useful features.

One is a “loop” feature. If you click on the LOOP icon, that marks the beginning of a video clip. Click a second time on the LOOP icon, and VLC starts playing that same video clip over and over, so you can watch it over and over again as long as you want. Click on the LOOP icon again, and looping stops and normal play resumes.

AspectRatio_VLC_FrameByFrameIf you click on the FRAME-BY-FRAME icon, the video freezes. Then each time you click again on the FRAME-BY-FRAME icon the video advances one frame. This is the ultimate possible slow-motion playback. Clicking the wedge-shaped PLAY icon will cause VLC to resume normal display of the video.

The height of the throw

I’ve been watching YouTube videos of great shooters, trying to analyze what they’re doing so I can try to do what they’re doing. One thing that (I think) I’ve noticed is that when they are shooting, they are very consistent in how high they throw the boule.

Almost every player that I’ve watched throws his boule so that, at the top of its trajectory, it is about head-height… somewhere between his shoulders and the top of his head. If a player is shooting at a longer distance (say, 10 meters) then he throws a little higher, so the boule maybe goes a foot or two above his head.

Marco Foyot gives a shooting demo at the Zanesfield Petanque club

Marco Foyot gives a shooting demo at the Zanesfield Petanque club

What this suggests to me is that the great shooters are pretty consistent in the force (or speed) with which they throw the boule. And that means their form is probably pretty consistent — the height of the backswing, the speed of the throwing arm, and so forth.

The difference between shooting at a short distance and shooting at a long distance is therefore the height to which they throw the boule. For a short throw, the boule is released fairly early and follows a lower trajectory — about shoulder height at the highest point. For a longer throw, the boule is released later and follows a higher trajectory — above the player’s head, perhaps, at its highest point. In both cases the path of the boule has the same shape — a gentle arcing curve.

Thinking this over, I realized that I was not at all consistent in the height to which I was throwing, and that I should try to be more consistent.

I rigged up a ribbon across my outdoor practice area, half way between the circle and the target boules, so that I would have to throw across the ribbon when practicing. I stretched the ribbon at about shoulder height. And then I practiced throwing with the goal of having my boule just clear the ribbon, with at most a foot or two between the boule and the ribbon.

Sometimes I practiced shooting not at the target boule, but at the ribbon. My goal was actually to HIT THE RIBBON and let the thrown boule land where it may. The ribbon is pink, and the material is sort of like yellow plastic CRIME SCENE tape. It is wide enough to be visible, and elastic enough to slip out of the way if I actually succeed in hitting it.

I’ve been doing this for a while, and it seems to be helping.

In the process, I found something that rather surprises me. After I practice shooting for a while (usually with a low percentage of success), I switch from aiming for the target boules to aiming for the ribbon. And when I do, my percentage of success (in hitting the target boules) is often actually higher when I’m aiming for the ribbon than it was when I was aiming at the boules!

I’ve noticed this several times, so I think the phenomenon is real. But I have no idea about how to explain it.

How to make a jack – the traditional way

TurningAPetanqueJack_theTraditionalWayIt is easy to find videos on YouTube showing how boules are manufactured. But you never see anything about how jacks are manufactured.

Recently I stumbled across this article on Boulistenaute, written in 2010 by JacPetanque (Jac Verheul). Even if you don’t read French, the pictures are interesting.

And the article has a link to this video clip on DailyMotion, from a documentary made in 1995.

Boules ELTÉ

ELTÉ was once a well-known and well-respected manufacturer of boules. In fact, along with JB, it was one of the original manufacturers of all-steel boules. Behind these two brands — LT and JB — were two remarkable men — Louis Tarchier and Jean Blanc.

By some accounts it was the Great Depression of 1929 that stimulated Louis Tarchier and Jean Blanc to go into business for themselves, and to develop the all-steel boule. But the dates just don’t work for that story. The evidence is that they had been working on their process since perhaps 1925, and produced their first boules in 1927 or 1928.

It is more probable that their inspiration was the development by Paul Courtieu of La Boule Intégrale, the first all-metal boule (cast in one piece from a “bronze” copper-aluminum alloy). Specifically, it seems likely that it was the approval of La Boule Intégrale by the Union Nationale des Fédérations de Boules in January 1925 that suggested to Tarchier and Blanc that there might be a market for an all-steel boule.

What we do know is that a man named Louis Tarchier, a gunsmith, and his friend and neighbor, Jean Blanc, a locksmith, lived in the little village of Saint-Bonnet-le-Château, and that sometime around 1925 Blanc came up with the idea that the two of them should go into business making metal boules.

Between the two of them they had the necessary skills and the necessary equipment. Blanc owned a metal press. Tarchier was one of the few specialists in the new technology of welding and cutting metal with an acetylene torch. They designed a manufacturing process, and invented and built the machines to do the various manufacturing steps. Blanc made the punches and dies to stamp steel blanks into hemispheres.

The manufacturing process was divided between the two men. Blanc cut long steel rods into slugs (basically stubby cylinders of steel) and stamped the slugs into disks and then into coquilles (“shells”, hollow hemispheres). Tarchier cut beveled edges into the shells, welded them together to form boules, polished them, and added the striations and markings. When it came time to temper the boules in the forge, Tarchier pumped the bellows and Blanc rotated the boules.

It took about three hours to manufacture a boule, and in the beginning it was difficult to control the final product. The two had to make boules for several months before they were able to make two of the same weight and the same diameter.

Together, they created the first all steel boules.

Each man had his own business and sold boules under his own brand name. They created their brand names from their initials. Louis Tarchier created the ELTÉ brand in 1930. Its logo, which was stamped on its boules, was Tarchier’s initials “LT” inside a circle. Jean Blanc created the “JB” brand. In very early JB boules, he also used a logo of his initials “JB” inside a circle.

Blanc died in 1933, at the age of 58. Jean Deville purchased the business’s machinery and continued to manufacture boules under the brand name of “JB”.

Louis Tarchier continued to manufacture “L.-T.” or ELTÉ boules, most of which were sent to, and sold through, La Boule Intégrale in Lyon.


After thirty-three years with the business, Tarchier retired, giving the business to his son, Maurice Crozet. In 1987 the brand name and the factories were sold (to a company named Opoint?), and seven years later sold again to OBUT, which retired the ELTÉ brand name. Eventually OBUT also bought the JB brand and retired it, too.

French wikipedia says Les boules Elté sont des boules artisanales, très différentes des boules produites à la chaîne, et estimées par les professionnels. — Elté boules were “artisanal” (craft, hand-made) boules, very different from mass-manufactured, and held in high esteem by professionals.

Most of the information in this post comes from the article on ELTE in the French wikipedia. That article cites only one reference, Jean-Michel Izoird and Gérard Pélisson-Lafay, La Pétanque, éditions ÉdiLoire.