Kieran Kammerer, left, who recently created this metal sign, poses with Raymond Fecteau at dedication ceremony Thursday at Mill Park petanque courts. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

 

AUGUSTA — It is a safe bet that 10 years ago, not many in Augusta were familiar with the game of petanque.

Not for nothing, a brochure from the city’s Mill Park Petanque Club calls it “the most interesting game no one ever heard of.”

Longtime resident Ray Fecteau has done his part to change that, having raised $50,000 to first build and later upgrade the courts at the city-owned riverside Mill Park. Eventually outfitting the courts with lighting, benches and a shelter that provides shade. Those courts now draw players on most days of the week, and frequent mailings go out to almost 60 area residents with an active interest in the game.

So what is petanque?

Similar to Italy’s bocce, petanque, a popular pastime in France, begins with the throwing of a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (little pig). Each player has three larger metal balls, a little smaller than a softball, that they lob or roll to try to get as close as possible to the cochonnet.

Fecteau said one of the best things about the game is that all ages can play it, and it provides low-impact exercise. He acknowledged that most of the regular players in Augusta are older adults, but he’d love to see younger people pick up the game. He said the courts were specifically designed to allow people in wheelchairs to play too.

With the gravel and crushed-stone courts now in their 10th year — Fecteau claims they are some of the best in the country —  he and others wanted to do something to mark the occasion.

When Fecteau spotted an old wagon wheel, its wooden spokes rotten but its metal outer rim still strong, he had an idea. That wheel became the starting point for a steel petanque sculpture he designed. The work of art was cut out and welded together, at no charge for the labor, by Hallowell pediatrician and wood and steel artisan Dr. Kieran Kammerer.

Kieran Kammerer recently created this metal sign seen at the dedication ceremony Thursday at Mill Park petanque courts. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The sculpture features, inside the wagon-wheel, a silhouette of a petanque player kneeling to line up his or her shot, framed by the words “Mill Park Petanque.”

Fecteau, 77, has traveled across the country and even overseas for petanque tournaments, but he loves playing in his home town.”We have a robust group of players that help maintain the courts as well as the setting up and taking down of equipment for tournament play,” he said.

Some 11 years ago he approached the Augusta City Council to ask permission to build a petanque court in a section of the sprawling park alongside the Kennebec River. City officials had never heard of the game, Fecteau said, but once he told them the courts would be paid for with private funds, councilors approved the idea.

Eventually, some city equipment and staff time went into building and maintaining the courts, but most of the expense was indeed borne by petanque enthusiasts themselves.

Raymond Fecteau speaks at the dedication ceremony for the new sign Thursday at Mill Park petanque courts. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Ray has been amazing through this whole project,” Bruce Chase, the city’s parks and recreation director, said Thursday at the dedication of the sculpture, which is mounted on a steel pole next to the courts. “When it first started there were maybe two or three people playing. Now it seems like they’re up to 50.”

Kammerer said he spent about four weekends working on the sculpture off and on, frequently checking in with Fecteau to make sure his execution was in line with the designer’s vision. He used a plasma cutter to cut out the silhouette of the petanque player.

Although he’d never heard of petanque, much less played it, Kammerer now wants to give it a try. He said he did the work for free because: “If I’m going to practice (medicine) here, I feel like I’ve got to give back to the community.”

Players meet at the courts every day at 9 a.m., except Tuesdays, when they play at 4 p.m. Fecteau said current players are always happy to show novices the ropes. He said he typically has more than a dozen sets of boules in his truck, so he can instruct others and hopefully make them petanquists too.

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