AUGUSTA — As the hazy sun bakes the gravel petanque courts at Mill Park, Ray Fecteau bends his knees and glares at the cochonnet.

Like a pitcher intently staring down a hitter, Fecteau analyzes the situation in front of him before rising and releasing the boule, all in one flipping motion. It lands with a dusty thud that rockets another boule away from scoring position near a small, orange target ball, drawing a smile from Fecteau.

It is the same smile that will be produced in 32 versions at Mill Park Sunday with 16 teams competing at the Augusta Fuel Company Doubles Open Petanque championships.

“I was looking to have an activity where you can have fun and meet new people,” said petanque newcomer Donald Albert, of Augusta. “It’s competitive; but at the same time, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It’s playing the game.”

Petanque — which is similar to bocce in many regards — is not a new sport by any means, just new to this area.

“This is a French game. 1907 was when this style of play was developed in southern France in La Ciotat,” Fecteau said. “This is what we play, that version. There’s always little minor house rules; things change, but you always expect that.”

For the past four years, Fecteau has been working to grow the game of petanque in Augusta, spurred on by a trip to France in 2010.

“I arrived in France on a Thursday and we stayed at a friend’s house. He said, ‘Hey, don’t even unpack. We’re going over to the petanque courts to play. You’re going to be in a tournament with us on Saturday,'” Fecteau recounted. “I said, ‘What is petanque?’ I had no idea what it was.”

Over the past few months, Fecteau has encountered a handful of people feeling the same way he did when he first tried the game — intrigued and excited.

In May, Albert saw an advertisement for Fecteau’s adult education seminar and elected to give it a try.

“Ray was kind enough to show us the ropes, give us some hints and have some practice,” Albert said. “It was supposed to be in May, but because of the rain, it ended up in early June.

“… I’m hooked now and having fun doing it.”

That’s how the allure of a game like petanque comes into play. If you put LeBron James on a basketball court against someone who has barely played the sport, the result is not all too pretty. On Augusta’s petanque court, however, there was the novice, Albert, and Cynthia Stroud — who last October competed in the Women’s World Championship in Montauban, France — both enjoying themselves.

Stroud plays petanque at the Maine Boules Club in Blue Hill, a group that Andre Strong helped found more than 20 years ago. Like Fecteau, Strong picked up the game on a trip to France.

“When I was 13 years old, I went to France with my mother, and I went to a three-star restaurant with some relatives over in Leone, and outside this restaurant they had a petanque court,” Strong said. “So we played petanque before we started this monumental dinner.

“I really didn’t play again until I went back to France in the early ’80s. A friend of mine was living there in the southern part of France, and we started playing. Then we brought the boules back.”

Strong also said that when they initially played they “didn’t know what they were doing,” but looked into it more in the ’90s — which led to the foundation of the club.

If Sunday’s tournament at Mill Park was any indication, Fecteau could follow the same path and gain a following similar to the one in Blue Hill.

“It’s a slow, slow process,” Fecteau said. “When I started this in 2010, I figured it was at least a six- or seven-year project to really get it on its feet. When you look at it today with all the people here, it looks like I’ve got a pretty good start.”

It has been a promising week for the game in the area, as last Wednesday the light stanchion hanging over the courts was officially finished.

“They’re the latest addition. We’re pleased with those,” Fecteau said. “We’ll be able to play in the evenings. To start we probably won’t use them a lot, but once we get going, it will come into play I’m sure.”

Petanque probably never will have the following in the United States as football, baseball or even table tennis, but Fecteau has a positive way of viewing the game.

“It’s the greatest game no one has ever heard of,” he said.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley


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