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.

Armenian members of Le Mistral dominated FPUSA teams to the World Championships between 1975 and 1987. Marcel Babayan represented the USA at three world championships; Albert Kallanian an incredible seven times. The club’s web site has several pages with wonderful photographs devoted to the history of the club and “the grand masters” — well worth visiting.

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. When they first began playing, they used an English translation by Jean Bontemps of the 1952 FFBJPP national rules.

La_Boule_dOr_patanque_club_1964

Photo courtesy of Monique Bricca, daughter of Armand Squitieri.


The group played in the Mission district next to 3rd Street, until new courts in Golden Gate Park were dedicated in 1959. 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. Philip Bontemps says that his father Jean-Louis Bontemps (not the same person as Jean Bontemps), Rene Dimaio, and Marcel Parnel were three of the founders of the club, along with Louis Toulon and Pierre Joske. The club got its start from Le Club Lafayette, a French club in Marin, made up of French immigrants, generally gardeners, bakers, painters, mechanics, waiters, consulate employees, etc. They got together and started La Petanque Mariniere, which competed with other local petanque clubs a couple of times a year. That group, plus Albert Lucas all participated in the championship competition held in Washington DC.

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.

1982

1982 - national championships, Washington DC

1982 – national championships, Washington DC

In 1982 a national championship was held on the Mall in Washington, DC. It is not clear who the competition organizer was. The APA certainly played a significant role, given its DC location and the fact that La Joyeuse Boule was the host club. Philip Bontemps reports that Alfred Levitt worked closely with Louis Toulon to make it happen. So perhaps both APA and FPUSA members participated, making it a truly national championship. This was the first national petanque championship held in the USA.

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.

Playing on the National Mall

Playing on the National Mall

1980s
1983 saw the founding of another of the strongest and oldest clubs in the United states — the Los Angeles Petanque Club.

In 1988, the Valley of the Moon Petanque Club was organized in Sonoma, California, just north of San Francisco. An archive of early newsletters (1990-2003) can be found HERE.


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.”

Gilles Canesse

Gilles Canesse


1993?

In 1979 Freddy Canesse immigrated to the USA from Calais. He moved to Sarasota, Florida in 1985, where he was joined by his younger brother Gilles. The brothers began playing with members of the local Alliance Française playing behind a restaurant on the Tamiami Trail, and around 1993 helped organize the Sarasota Club de Pétanque, which eventually evolved into (spawned?) the Manasota Boules Club.

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.

1996

1996 marks the completion of the shift of the FPUSA’s center of gravity from the East Coast to the West Coast. Louis Toulon and Mike Norton, of the Valley of the Moon Petanque Club, are elected president and vice-president, respectively. The other officers are already from the West Coast, which means that now all five FPUSA officers are from the West Coast. Frank Pipal, also of VOMPC, agrees to become editor of the FPUSA newsletter.VOMPC_newsletter_clipping_1996

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.

In 2000, John Rolland started Boca Petanque 2000 in Boca Raton, Florida.

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.

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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.
boules_elte

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.

This is how boules are made... the process invented by Jean Blanc and Louis Tarchier. A slug is cut off of a bar of steel, pounded into a flat steel disk, which is then pounded into a shell (coquille).  Two shells are welded (soudre) together to form a sphere, which is then machined into a smooth sphere, after which lines (stries) and engraving are added.

This is how boules are made… the process invented by Jean Blanc and Louis Tarchier.
A slug is cut off of a bar of steel (acier), pounded into a flat steel disk, and then pounded into a shell (coquille). Two shells are welded (soudre) together to form a sphere, which is then machined into a smooth sphere, after which lines (stries) and engraving are added, and the boule is polished.


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.
JB_boule_LogoInCircle

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.

boules_elte_logo

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. OBUT also bought the JB brand in the 1990s, and retired it in 2012.

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.


Terminology – Origin of the word pétanque

pétanque — feet planted (firmly on the ground)
pes_tanca_01

Q: What is the origin of the word “pétanque” (French) or “petanca” (Spanish)?

A: Two Occitan words meaning “feet” and “planted” were transliterated into French and then collapsed into the single French word “pétanque”.


Occitan (pronounced oksitan) is the old pre-French language of Provençe. Like French, Italian, and Spanish, Occitan is a “romance language” — a language descended from the language of the ancient Romans who occupied southern France and Spain for many centuries. Provençal is one of the six major dialects of Occitan. Occitan’s closest relative is Catalan, the language of Catalonia, the north-eastern Spanish province.

Occitan is not French, but the two languages are related through their Roman ancestry. In some cases, an Occitan word will resemble its French counterpart, and (thanks to the Norman Conquest) sometimes resemble a related English word. The Occitan word pèd (foot), for example, is related to the French word pied (foot) and such English words as “pedal”, “pedestrian”, and “podiatrist”.


As I say, we know that two Occitan words were run together to create the word pétanque. The first word was pès or pés which meant “feet”. The second word was something like tanca, tanco, tancats, tanqués. Some sources say that this word meant “together” or “tied together” while others say that it meant “planted”, “fixed”, or “anchored”. A definitive answer can be found in a Petanque America blog entry by Philippe Boets. Here is my lightly edited copy of that post.

Feet fixed or together?

The May, 2009 issue of France Today magazine lists a number of typical Provence terms, and of course “pétanque” is one of them. I’m so glad they use the term “feet fixed”, as opposed to “feet together”. Too many people think that your feet have to be glued together when you throw.

“tanca” is an old Provençal term meaning “blocked” or “fixed”. In todays’ Catalan, closely related to Provençal, the verb “tancar” is still used in that sense, and more generally as a term for “to close”. Because when you “block” an entrance or “fix” a window, you prevent further use, and actually “close” it.

It evolved into French as “tanquer” (“-er” being the common ending for a verb), also as a reflexive verb “se tanquer” meaning “to get stuck”, hence “to be stuck”.

The idea of standing still (or “being stuck”) when throwing a boule was quite revolutionary in 1907. For centuries folks had been running, jumping, you name it, when throwing boules. Imagine telling a javelin thrower today that there’s no more run-up.

A lot of people still think that “tanca” means “together”. No one cares how close together your feet are, as long as they’re immobile, and — when it comes to formal competitions — fit in the regulation 50cm (20″) diameter circle.

By the way, in the South of France, “tanqué” (the past participle of “tanquer”) is also used to describe someone who is well built, as a compliment: “C’est une femme bien tanquée!”

So the bottom line is that the ultimate origin of the word “petanque” is the Occitan words “pés tanca” which mean, basically, “feet planted (firmly on the ground)”.

pes_tanca_02

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


Nicknames

Entre 1950 et 1960, naissent les premières « stars » de la pétanque. Cette dernière prend son essor sous l’impulsion d’Alphonse Baldi, dit « Le Bombardier Toulonnais », de François Bezza dit « Besse » et du fameux Ange Arcolao, dit « Bebert de Cagnes ». Ce dernier est d’ailleurs le premier à avoir  une carrière de plusieurs décennies.

Entre 1950 et 1960, naissent les premières « stars » de la pétanque. Cette dernière prend son essor sous l’impulsion d’Alphonse Baldi, dit « Le Bombardier Toulonnais », de François Bezza dit « Besse » et du fameux Ange Arcolao, dit « Bébert de Cagnes ». Ce dernier est d’ailleurs le premier à avoir une carrière de plusieurs décennies.

According to legend, Jules le Noir — who was the inspiration for the invention of petanque — was actually named Jules Hugues. “le Noir” was a nickname.

As Jon Bryant pointed out in an article called “Game of Life” (in France Magazine, original date unknown but probably July 2010) —

Nicknames used to be a big thing in boules. In most provençal villages, there would be a man known as Le Pendule (presumably for his regular arm swing) or Le Vieux (presumably as he’s been playing longer than anyone can remember) who was undefeated for over a decade and is still talked about by the locals.

Armand Vidal, who has written a dictionary of boule terms, laments the loss of the nickname. He writes that in the final of the Provençal tournament in 1909, all six men carried an official nickname — there was Le Blond, Petit Paul, Parpelet, Le Mecanicien. By 1931, only three of the six finalists had a recognizable sobriquet, and by 1976 only one finalist — so-called Bambi — was so distinguished.

Is the game getting more serious? Is too much money involved? Has the pace of life changed so much that there’s no impetus to label someone as anything but their own surname?

DictionnaireDeJeuDeBoules_ArmandVidalVidal’s book is Dictionnaire du jeu de boules: Tel qu’on le parle en Provence (Jeanne Laffitte, 1999) — toutes les expressions provençales du jeu de boules (boule provençale et pétanque), avec un index.


For more information about nicknames, see this and the last few pages of this.


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


The birth of the FPUSA

The Federation of Petanque U.S.A. — the FPUSA — is the official governing body of the sport of pétanque in the United States. The FPUSA, as we know it today, was created in 1987 by the merger of two earlier organizations, the FPUSA and the APA.


Petanque is played in the United States wherever recent immigrants from France, particularly those from the south of France, have settled.

Following WWII there was an influx of French into the San Francisco Bay area, and petanque became a vehicle for social interaction at gatherings of the newly arrived. In 1959 the first petanque club in the United States, La Boule d’Or, was organized [in San Francisco] by Jean Bontemps, an importer from Provençe.  In 1960 La Boule d’Or was host to an international tournament on their home terrain in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Participants came from Quebec, France, and Tunisia.

Bontemps later moved to Washington DC, where he met Alfred Levitt, a painter. Levitt had been teaching art in St. Remy de Provençe, where he developed a love for petanque.

In New York, in 1968, Levitt founded the club La Boule New Yorkaise, which met to play petanque in Washington Square. Levitt contacted the FIPJP and with their blessing founded the Federation of Petanque, U.S.A., Inc. (FPUSA) in 1973.

— article “Petanque” by Frank Pipal
Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States
ed. Kirsh, Harris, Nolte

(The FPUSA was incorporated in New York State on September 27, 1973. Its company number is USNY235176. DOS (Dept. of State) number is 235176.)

 

The FPUSA was originally the creation of Alfred Levitt. Levitt, a painter, lived in New York City but traveled frequently to France where he ran an art school in Provence. Levitt discovered petanque in Provence, and brought the game back to the United States. In 1968, Levitt and his wife Gertrude founded the first petanque club in New York City, La Boule New Yorkaise (LBNY). At first they played on the gravel foot-paths in Central Park, and later moved to the gravel paths in Washington Square Park, closer to Levitt’s home in Greenwich Village.

There are suspicions that when Levitt contacted the FIPJP in 1973, he lied about the number and size of clubs in the USA in order to gain recognition from the FIPJP. In any event, he got it and the FPUSA came into existence in 1973, with Alfred Levitt as its first president. Eventually (by 1986) the FPUSA grew to 8 member clubs. Most clubs were located on the East Coast, but there were exceptions. On the West Coast, the Los Angeles Petanque Club and La Pétanque Marinière were members.

Alfred Levitt

Alfred Levitt, some time in the 1970s

At the time that Levitt created the FPUSA in New York City, petanque was better-established on the west coast — around San Francisco and the Bay area — than it was in New York. At that time, the San Francisco Bay area had (as it still does today) a healthy population of French chefs and French winegrowers. After Jean Bontemps founded La Boule d’Or in 1959, it was followed in the 1970’s by La Boule Joyeuse, and La Pétanque Marinière (1972).

In the mid-1960s Bontemps had moved to the Washington DC area and founded two local clubs. In 1976 he set up the American Petanque Association (APA) in Washington, DC, probably to create a national petanque organization not dominated by Alfred Levitt. Despite the APA’s east-coast base, most of its member clubs were located on the west coast. Eventually (by 1986) the APA had 14 member clubs.

For a number of years the APA and the FPUSA existed side-by-side. The APA did better than the FPUSA, and periodically sought recognition from the FIPJP. But the APA could never get official recognition from the FIPJP, which did not want to recognize two national petanque federations in the United States. That meant that during this period the APA wanted — but could never get — access for its members to international FIPJP championships.

There was interest on the part of the APA in merging with the FPUSA. But nothing ever came of it, primarily because of the prickly personality of Alfred Levitt. Levitt had an irritating, authoritarian, and aggressive personality, and apparently antagonized almost everyone he dealt with. The West Coast APA members found the New York-based Levitt too difficult to deal with, so they simply avoided him. The two organizations continued their separate existences.

Levitt was almost 90 years old, but had no plans to retire. Eventually, in 1985, he was forced out as president of the FPUSA. His successor as president of the FPUSA was Hans Jepson, also of La Boule New Yorkaise.

Bob Morrison, December 2013

Bob Morrison, December 2013

The end of the Levitt regime reopened the possibility for negotiations between the APA and the FPUSA. In 1986, Robert Morrison of the APA and the National Capital Club de Petanque in Washington DC got on a train and went up to New York City to meet with Jepson. Morrison remembers the negotiations as being almost a non-event. He proposed that the APA clubs merge with the FPUSA, and Jepson said “OK” and that was about it.

At the time, the FPUSA was the weaker of the two organizations, but it was the one with FIPJP recognition, so the new organization was known as the FPUSA. Jepson served as president pro tem of the new organization, until elections could be held early in 1987. Joseph Ardagna of Club de Petanque of Portsmouth, Virginia was elected as the first president of the new FPUSA.

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.. Morrison financed the event out of his own pocket. The Championnat took place on the weekend before Bastille Day, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington D.C. It provided an opportunity for the players of the old APA and the old FPUSA to meet and play against each other, and against Canadian and European teams. It was a great success. Henri Bernard, then-president of the FIPJP, was in attendance, along with 50 triples teams from the US, Canada, France, and Switzerland.

It was a great kick-off party for the new national organization. Here are some pictures.


Historical record of the presidents of the FPUSA

The historical succession is difficult to reconstruct.
This information is not available on the FPUSA web site.

1973-1986 Alfred Levitt (founder)
1986-1986 Hans Jepson
1987-1992 Joseph Ardagna (first elected president of the new FPUSA created by the merger of the APA and the old FPUSA)
?-? Bob Morrison
?-1995-?-2002-? Michael Norton
?-2006-? John Rolland
2009-2011 Joe Martin
2011-2015 Ed Porto
2016- Ed Porto

About the sources

Information on this topic is difficult to find, often incomplete, and not always reliable. Some of the information in this article was obtained from personal discussions with Bob Morrison, of the National Capitol Club de Petanque, and Yngve Biltsted, of the Los Angeles Petanque Club. See also the Historic Issue of the Los Angeles Petanque Club newsletter, and the story by Frank Pipal on page five of the FPUSA Annual for 2012-2013. Photos of the 1987 tournament on the mall are courtesy of web site Jacques Biaggini, formerly of the La Joyeuse Boule club in Maryland.

The photo of Alfred Levitt is courtesy of Valérie Feschet’s excellent article on petanque in New York City, in Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore. Alfred Levitt died in New York City in 2000, at the age of 105.

The FPUSA blog has an archived list of FPUSA participants in world championships up to 20008.


If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy its companion piece A brief history of petanque in the USA or some of our other history posts.

Petanque in Thailand

In 1933, following the death of her husband, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, and a democratic revolution that overturned the monarchy in Thailand, Princess Srinagarindra (1900-1995) (given name: Sangwan) and her three children moved to Switzerland. In 1946, her second son was invited, by a unanimous decision of the Thai Parliament, to accede to the throne as King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) of Thailand, making Princess Srinagarindra “Queen Mother” or “Princess Mother” of Thailand. She continued to live in Switzerland, visting Thailand occasionally, until 1964, when, at the age of 64, on a trip to rural Thailand, she discovered the extreme poverty of rural Thai life. It was a life-changing experience. She began a career of working to improve the lives of the Thai people in many ways — a career that ended only with her death in 1995.

During her long residence in Switzerland, she had discovered pétanque. She was an athletic person, and it is said that she played pétanque almost daily until well into her nineties.

In the 1970’s she introduced pétanque into Thailand, and encouraged playing of the sport at public schools nationwide and the creation of petanque teams for the police, army, and civil service. As a result, pétanque is now played more widely in Thailand than even in France. It is a mandatory part of Thai military training.

Today Thailand boasts 80,000 competitive pétanque players, and is a world power in the field of petanque.

In 1997, two years after her death, the Asian Petanque and Sports Boules Confederation was established. Thailand, along with Vietnam and Laos (two former French colonies), was among its important founding member nations. Today its member nations include Cambodia, Singapore, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, India, and Indonesia.

La Franc boules — the least-expensive line of FIPJP-approved competition boules, are manufactured in Bangkok, Thailand by the FBT Sports company. One of the few manufacturers of officially sanctioned pétanque boules outside of France, FBT (www.fbtsports.com) is also known for its excellent sportswear.


Further reading


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Ernest Pitiot on the birth of petanque

Ernest Pitiot’s memories of how the game of Petanque got started.


It was in 1910 at La Ciotat, Bouches du Rhone, at the “Beraud” boulodrome that I used to run with my brother, that the game of pétanque was born.

All the great Jeu Provençal players of the region used to meet under the large plane trees at Beraud — players from Marseille: Grand-Jean, le Blond, Lombard nickname le Noir, Petit-Paul — players from Toulon: le Grele, le Pice, Chibalon, le Moult, the brothers Espanet de la Garde — players from Ciotat: Pinot, big Cesaire, Saint Jean, etc. All the top players used to play le Jeu Provençal for money every day with several shopkeepers from the town, games that used to attract a large number of spectators – who were allowed, for 5 centimes, to take a chair to follow the games but far too often they would stop the boules that were shot, for being seated they couldn’t get up fast enough.

We therefore took away the chairs to keep the players happy who, quite rightly, used to complain.

This decision was against the wishes of a good customer and friend “Jules le Noir”, a shopkeeper at La Ciotat who, crippled by rheumatism, could no longer hardly stand on his legs. Exceptionally, we granted him permission to have a chair on the condition that he would carefully keep to the side of the circle drawn on the ground before the jack was thrown and where the players regularly used to leave their boules while waiting their turn.

And from there, our Jules who could no longer participate in any game, used to amuse himself shooting at 1.5 or 2 meters with the boules left in the circle. “I’m practicing” he used to say to me. Very well one day, certain of pleasing him, I offered to play with him, without moving, “feet planted” [pieds tanqués] from 2 to 3 meters and we played.

We started again the next day, and the following days. The old players, who numbered quite a few, watched how we played, well enough that my brother organized a competition for the following Saturday. There were 8 teams of 2 players with a first prize of 10 francs.

“Pieds-tanqués” was born.

Subsequent competitions were successful and we played from 3 to 5 meters.

The game spread throughout the region, but thanks to numerous sailors, to builders from La Ciotat, that it took a rapid hold, because these sailors used to play Pieds-Tanqués in all the ports where they used to stop over.

The game that was casually called “Pieds-Tanqués”, “Piedstanques”, or “Pétanque” definitively became “Pétanque” during the preparation of the official rules by the Languedoc-Rousillon Federation of which I’m one of the founder members and President for several years.

E. Pitiot
With all my thanks to the Council at La Ciotat [hand-written note]


There are a number of interesting things about this account.

  1. There is a tradition, or legend, that pétanque was invented in 1907, and the first tournament held in 1910. However, Pitiot’s account says quite clearly that the game was invented in 1910, and the first tournament was held only a few days later. Pitiot says that the players played every day for money, so the idea of a competition “with a first prize of 10 francs” being organized very soon after the invention of the game seems quite plausible. That the games were played for money also helps explain the regular presence of spectators — who were probably doing some wagering as they watched.
     
  2. Pitiot says that “top players” from Marseille and Toulon used to come to Beraud to play against the Ciotat top players and local shopkeepers. In many versions of the legend, Jules le Noir was a famous and skillful Jeu Provençal player — a top player — disabled by rheumatism and frustrated by his inability to play. But in Pitiot’s account, le Noir is simply a local shopkeeper (commerçant) who is also a good customer and friend. There is no suggestion that le Noir was ever one of the top players.
     
  3. Legend has it that “Jules le Noir” was a nickname, and that the man’s real name was Jules Hugues.
     
  4. Pitiot says that petanque was invented at le Jeu de Boules “Béraud” — the Béraud boulodrome. Some accounts say that the boulodrome was called La Boule Etoilée, named after reflections of light from the nailed boules (boules cloutées) which were used at the time. Still other accounts say that the brothers ran a café called La Boule Etoilée and the boulodrome (terrain, piste) was attached to the café.
     
  5. It seems that the invention of the circle preceded the invention of the game of petanque itself. Apparently, Jeu Provençal players used to draw a circle on the ground, to mark off a spot where they could set down their boules when they weren’t playing. Le Noir was allowed to keep his chair, but only on condition that he kept it to the side of this circle. So it was a natural development that, in the very first game, le Noir should throw from the chair where he was sitting, and Pitiot should throw while standing next to him, in the circle.
     
  6. When the first petanque games were played, they were played at a distance of 3 to 5 meters. Today, of course, it is twice that— 6 to 10 meters.
     

ernest_pitiot_on_the_origin_of_petanque
This memoire exists in the form of a typewritten letter to the Fédération Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP). The original is now, I believe, in the possession of the Boulodrome Jules le Noire, in La Ciotat. You can click on the image at the right to see a full-size version.

The English translation was prepared by Raymond Ager (aka “A Lot of Gaul”). I have tweaked that translation in a few places in an effort to better convey the flavor of the original. I translate Toulonnais as “from Toulon” rather than “from Toulouse”. I translate pieds tanqués as “feet planted” (on the ground) rather than “feet together”.


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