Petanque players pair up for national championships in Sonoma
Published: Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.
Father-and-son Dick and Mike Menefee of Sonoma are a team of relative novices.
Men's Doubles: Paul Yang and By Bang, both of Fresno
Women's doubles: Narin Garrett of Sonoma and Cynthia Stroud of Brooklin, Maine
Mixed Doubles: Ernesto Santos of New York City and Narin Garrett of Sonoma
But at Sonoma's Depot Park pétanque courts Sunday they had a pair of expert French ex-pats sweating nervously during a fierce game of the outdoor bowling sport.
The Federation of Pétanque USA held its annual doubles tournament this weekend in Sonoma, where more than 200 players from across the country competed.
Expert players who travel internationally played against newbies such as the Menefees who started playing four years ago.
Mike Menefee, 56, a retired San Francisco firefighter, stepped into a small plastic ring, felt the weight of the ball in his palm and let it fly.
The hollow metal ball, called a boule, knocked into a pair of his opponents' boules, shooting them in either direction.
“Go Mike!” said Barbara Hall, vice president of the Valley of the Moon Pétanque Club. “If he hadn't shot that, they'd be out.”
Described as chess on the ground, pétanque is a form of bowling, much like Italian bocce or British lawn bowling. The game formed in southern France and the word pétanque derives from a provençal phrase meaning feet together.
Whereas bocce is more akin to modern bowling with players taking steps before rolling the ball, pétanque players stand within a small circle and toss the boules, often from a squat.
Players lob the boules toward a small wooden ball, barely an inch in diameter, called a jack, or a cochonnet in French. The goal is to get the most boules closest to the jack.
The championship in Sonoma was the biggest crowd yet in the federation's history, said president Ed Porto, 59, a graphic designer from Petaluma. The federation has about 1,700 members in 43 clubs.
“This is special,” Porto said.
People flew in from Maine and New York although the bulk of the players came from the West Coast, from Seattle to Los Angeles, he said.
Most members are in their 50s, although competitors this weekend ranged from 19 to 85. They filled four large pétanque courts with rows of games. Metal boules sparkled in the heat. Spectators sipped wine in the shade.
Players approached the game attitudes ranging from finicky man who complained of spectators in his sight lines to players who celebrated good moves with hugs and fist bumps.
Although the Menefees eventually lost to their opponents, retired park ranger Dick Menefee, 79, said he would never forget the experience.
“We put them against the wall, made them sweat a little,” Dick Menefee said.
Across the court, Narin Garrett, 34, of Sonoma stepped into the ring, squatted down and lobbed a boule that gently rolled closest to the jack.
“She's a beautiful player, classic and elegant,” said Shannon Bowman, president of the Valley of the Moon club.
Garrett and her partner, Cynthia Stroud from Maine, are members of a national team with Hall and Manafee's fiancee, Erin McTaggart of Sonoma.
Against southern California opponents in matching mint green shirts who on their last turn inched ahead, Garrett tossed another ball. It landed even closer.
“It was very close, back and forth, point by point up until the end,” Garrett said.
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