✋ Aim small; miss small.

When you’re throwing, it is important to focus on a small, specific target.
aim_small_miss_small
Byron Putman describes it this way in his book Petanque (p. 64).

Great au fer shooters have “the eyes”… for several seconds they lock their gaze laser-like on the target boule as if it were the only object in the universe…. For some shooters locking their vision on the target boule is not enough. They create a more precise bull’s-eye by staring at a single point on the target.

This is called target focus. It is as important for accurate pointing as it is for accurate shooting. Focussing on a small and very specific spot for your donnée is important. That’s why, in the “mental” part of our page on How to throw a boule, we emphasize picking the donnée and paying attention to where the thrown boule lands.

Your mantra here is

Aim small; miss small.

Here’s a good explanation of how to do it.

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.

wooden_balls_ad

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

wooden_jack_homemade

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.

Starting in 2018, the rules will specify that jacks must weigh between 10g and 18g. Your home-made jack will weigh around 13g, which places it in the middle of the required weight range. (This shouldn’t be surprising. The requirements are designed around balls made of hardwood, and that is exactly what your home-made jack is.)

In short, your home-made jack meets the legal requirements (for both size and weight) for use in competitions. In fact, although it is colored, it is not covered with a coat of paint. That actually makes it more like a traditional cochonnet than one of the painted jacks that you can buy from Obut.

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


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


1950s

Starting in the early 1950s, Jean Raffa in Montréal and Jean Fuschino in Québec City began to popularize petanqe in French-speaking Canada. Jean Rafa later wrote a book, “Petanque au Québec” in which he reported that the pétanque players in Montréal and Québec City got together and formed the Federation Canadianne Bouliste Inc. The first competition of the new organization was held on Sunday July 15, 1956 at Parc Lafontaine in Montréal.

1958

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

1959
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

La_Boule_dOr_patanque_club_1964

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.

1960s

In 1962, the North American Championships (which later evolved into le Coupe des Amériques – basically, USA vs. Canada) were held in San Francisco.

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.

1970s

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 September 1975, the 11th World Championships were held in Québec City, Canada… the first and last time the World Championships were held in the Americas.

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.

1980s

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
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.”

1994

The first annual Coupe des Amériques (not to be confused with the bicycling event) is held in Drummondville, Quebec. The plan is for it to be played every year, alternating between Canada and the USA. Since about 2004, it has been held in the USA in even-numbered years.

2003
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 www.videolan.org/vlc 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.
AspectRatio_VLC_openNetworkStream

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

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_setAspectRatio


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.
PracticingWithARibbon

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.