May 25, 2018
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9-time French national petanque champ visits Maine

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BLUE HILL, Maine — For one sun-kissed weekend, a Blue Hill boat yard seemed to be transformed into something more Mediterranean, more competitive — and definitely more French.

This weekend, the Maine Boules Club hosted Marco Foyot, a nine-time winner of the French national petanque championship, to give lessons, clinics and impart a certain je ne sais quoi to Mainers interested in the game.

He arrived with flair in a vintage car at Webber’s Cove Boatyard, where petanque courts are laid out on the gravel in between hauled-out fishing boats and yachts, and local players were excited to meet him. Some likened his visit to the chance to have a $20 golf lesson from Tiger Woods.

“He got out of his car, saying ‘Champion du monde!’” club member Max Mattes of Deer Isle, reflected Sunday of Foyot’s grand entrance. “It’s a sideshow as well as a clinic — and he’s a great ambassador for the sport. Plus, he can actually play. You can only be that arrogant if you back it up.”

Petanque is similar to bocce, and is a game with the object of throwing metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called the cochonnet, or piglet.

“It’s an easy sport to play,” Julie Jo Fehrle of the Maine Boules Club said. “You can spend the rest of your life learning to play better.”

Foyot clearly had ability as well as flair, demonstrating to eager members and others from around the state and New England a better way to gracefully lob the silver metal ball. Modern petanque, a sport that is about 100 years old, is played enthusiastically all over France and is growing in popularity around the United States. According to the Federation of Petanque, USA, there are 2,000 members in this country and at least 50,000 amateur players.

“Petanque has already taken root here,” Foyot — a dashing white-haired figure — said with the help of a translator. “The fact that I came here is good for the players. What they’re lacking right now is the technique, and I can help them.”

Jim Tierney of New Haven, Conn., came north for the clinic and the chance to play in a friendly Sunday tournament with everyone, including Foyot.

“To get a chance to play with a world champion, it’s really an honor,” Tierney said. “I learned a lot of valuable things.”

He and others chatted while waiting for the other players to make their toss. Some boules fans sipped small plastic glasses of white wine while craning their faces toward the autumn sun. Water in the nearby cove seemed impossibly blue in the October light and the musical sounds of French being spoken punctuated the air.

“One of the things that’s the best thing about petanque is that it’s really social,” Tierney said. “There’s time to talk. It’s a good chance to practice French, too.”

Mia Kanazawa of Brooksville, the club president, said that Foyot’s visit — sponsored by the Federation of Petanque, USA — had generated a lot of interest, with about 21 people taking the workshops.

“They’re here because he’s here. It’s great,” she said. “It’s great also for our members to have the example of someone who has accomplished so much.”

She and other club members were proud to say that one local woman was achieving great things in the game internationally. That same day, petanque player and artist Cynthia Stroud of Brooklin was competing in the women’s world championship in Montauban, France.

“We do have a nice club,” Kanazawa said. “What I enjoy most is building the skills, combined with the simple pleasures of playing this game together.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Julie Joe Fehrle of the Maine Boules Club. It is Julie Jo.

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