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Pétanque returns to Claremont after COVID hiatus

A pétanque player tosses metal boules

After a yearlong wait, Claremont seniors were able to put on their wrist straps and toss their metal boules again as the pétanque (pronounced “pay-tonk”) group at the Joslyn Senior Center hosted their first session back together last Sunday afternoon at Larkin Park.
Despite gusty winds, about 15 seniors participated in the French game and took aim at the “cochonnet” (pronounced coach-nay) from 4 to 7 p.m. During Sunday’s session, players were divided into small groups and faced off in two-versus-two and three-versus-three games.
For those unaware of the fundamentals of pétanque, the game is quite simple to play yet hard to master according to USAPetanque.org.
For a basic overview, after winning a coin toss a player begins on a marked space outlined in a circle and then tosses a colored ball called a “cochonnet” onto the field, which marks the location where participants need to aim their two or three metal boules. The winning team scores one point for each of its boules that is closer than the opposing team’s closest boule. The first team to reach 13 points wins the game.
The original game of pétanque was developed by the French in 1907 and draws similarities to lawn bowling, Bocce and marbles. As of 2002, the governing body of pétanque, the Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal, had approximately 600,000 registered members across 52 countries.
After playing the game in France, traveling to numerous tournaments, and participating in the pétanque clubs at Los Angeles and Palm Desert, Ben Bull and Karen Michele, the co-leaders of the Claremont group, brought the exciting game to the city in 2015. In collaboration with the Joslyn Center, the couple were able to start a pétanque group.
While there is competitive pétanque, Mr. Bull and Ms. Michele emphasized that their sessions are strictly for casual play only—and have remained that way since they first began the group at June Vail Park. However, when horses returned to the park after a 25-year hiatus and resumed use of the pétanque space, the group was forced to find a new location.
Mr. Bull said that after he and his wife learned about the decommissioned picnic area outside of the Joslyn Center from Jason Lass, the group moved their sessions to Larkin Park in 2016. Since then, Mr. Bull and Ms. Michele have encouraged newcomers and veteran pétanque athletes to come and join their weekly group.
“People keep coming and going and it’s a nice Sunday activity,” Mr. Bull said. “The purpose of pétanque is a leisure activity; to engage with people; and have fun. And develop skill because some people enjoy having skill in something.”
“We’ve had the kids from a youth group of the junior high across the street [El Roble] come over and interact with our players in the afternoons and that’s been really neat,” Mr. Bull added. “The thing with anything is trying to get younger folks to have an interest in it and the indicative is if you see your grandfather playing something, well you really don’t want to play the same game as your grandfather so it’s an interesting challenge.”
After COVID-19 canceled most of the group’s meetings for 2020 and some of 2021, participants happily agreed they were excited to be back on the field and in such great company after a year’s absence.
In the summer, the Claremont group meets at 4 p.m., to beat the California heat. During the spring, fall and winter, the group meets earlier at 1 p.m.
To register for the group’s Sunday sessions, visit the Claremont pétanque webpage at www.claremontpetanque.org. Players must complete a waiver prior to participating. The park is located adjacent to the Joslyn Senior Center, with the pétanque area located in the northeast corner underneath the tall trees.
While the group still practices social distancing when possible, players who are fully vaccinated are allowed to play unmasked. Those who have not received their vaccine or are not fully vaccinated are still required by the group to wear masks.
The Joslyn Senior Center remains closed, with its reopening date still up in the air according to site coordinator Christina Delgado. She said the center is gradually accommodating more outdoor events like pétanque; however, classes and sessions are still taking place via Zoom until further notice.
For more information on the Joslyn Center and their events, visit their webpage at www.ci.claremont.ca.us/government/departments-divisions/human-services/seniors/classes-personal-enrichment-copy or call them at (909) 399-5488.

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

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