AUGUSTA — The game’s outcome rested in Stephen Lessard’s right arm. He lined up the shot he hoped would take his ball as close as possible to the cochonnet without actually touching it. If he succeeded, Lessard would win the game for his team. Failure meant instant defeat. The shot looked good in the air, but was too hard. Lessard’s ball hit the cochonnet and sent it skidding across the ground.

“He was going for broke,” said Lessard’s teammate, Ray Fecteau, founder of the Mill Park Petanque Club. “If he had … but that’s the game.”

What followed, a free flow of support and congratulations on turns well played, also is part of the game, and the part that helped give Augusta a close-knit petanque community. That community is open to anyone who ever has played the game or just would like to give it a try, including Lessard, a visitor from Denver who first played the court at Mill Park this week but already was fitting in like an old friend.

“Immediately I have a group of 30 friends that I would never have had if not for this game,” Lessard said. “I would have come out for vacation and I would have gone home, but here I get to spend the day with a bunch of great people doing the same thing we love.”

Sunday’s Augusta Fuel Co. Doubles Open Petanque championships is the Mill Park Petanque Club’s biggest tournament of the year. This year competition drew nearly two dozen competitors from Augusta, the Maine Boules Club from Blue Hill, Denver’s Mile High Petanque Club and New York. Fecteau said teams from Old Orchard Beach usually compete, but they failed to show up this year.

“It’s a little smaller this year for whatever reason,” said Fecteau, who established the club in 2010 after seeing it played for the first time during a trip to France.

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Similar to bocce ball, petanque begins with the throw of a small wooden ball, called a cochonnet, or little pig, which is a little smaller than a pingpong ball. Each player has three larger metal balls, each a little smaller than a softball, that they lob or roll, trying to get as close to the cochonnet as possible.

“I’m fairly competitive, but I like to laugh and have fun,” said Jim Brogan, of Fayette, who has played since Fecteau built the course. “That’s what this is all about for me.”

Brogan said his interest in the game dates back a number of years to a trip he took to France.

“I saw the game being played and I heard the balls,” Brogan said, clinking together the metal balls he was holding. “I said, ‘I’ve got to play that game some day.'”

Brogan was unsure what the game was called, but when he heard a description of the game Fecteau was trying to introduce to Augusta, it sounded familiar.

“The minute I heard that sound, I said, ‘This is it,'” Brogan said. “‘I’m gonna play that game.'”

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Mary McKeen’s introduction to the game was much more recent. The West Gardiner woman has been playing since last fall, when her companion, Ray Bolduc, of Augusta, introduced her to the sport.

“It worked out fine because … she got used to it, and we got used to each other,” Bolduc said. “We’ve been teammates ever since.”

One of the draws of petanque is that skill is not required to have a good time, but McKeen said it has been fun to watch her game develop.

“In just the last month, it seems to have come around and I’m playing a lot better,” she said. “It’s more fun when you’re at least some competition.”

Lessard, like Brogan and Fecteau, first saw the game on a trip to France and set about learning to play when he returned to the United States. He searched for a club and found one in Denver. He said there about 30 players in his home city’s club, which closely mirrors the number of regular players in Augusta.

“It’s great to see all the support that he gets from the city and community,” Lessard said. “It makes me a little jealous.”

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He is no less envious of the court, which is situated at the back edge of the park overlooking the Kennebec River.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Lessard said. “I’ve never played petanque in a place where a bald eagle is chasing an osprey with a fish in its mouth.”

Much of the game’s appeal is the chance to make new connections in different places around the world, Fecteau said. He plans to take Lessard up on his offer to go play in Denver.

“This is such a low-impact sport that anybody that wants to play can go anywhere in the country and play,” Fecteau said. “You meet people from all over the country.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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