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HOLMBERG: Fun, international game causes friction in city park

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) – The Les Boulefrogs club has brought the fabulously popular French yard game of to the Chimborazo playground atop Church Hill.

For that, they have been vilified.

“One person said we should be lynched,” said one member. “Another one said we should be harassed.”

“It was a rough time for the petanque players,” said club founder Richard Taranto, “because we were the brunt of a lot of the ill feelings.”

The story begins about seven years ago, when Taranto put a one-paragraph notice in the Church Hill Association newsletter about starting a petanque club. “And about 12 people came,” he said.

They started playing wherever they could, on grass, in an alley. They settled in Chimborazo playground. A little more than a year ago, when an army of volunteers built the new playground and the community garden there, the club members built two petanque courts, similar to those in cities across the country.

Their club has grown to more than 40 members.

A year ago, when the park was being redesigned, an architectural firm drew up plans that would make this one playground a championship quality destination for petanque, a sport embraced by cities around the world, including those in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Morocco and former French colonies.

Blacktop used by skateboarders was ripped up to make way for four more big and elaborate petanque courts – championship quality.

Park users were left scratching their heads. Why so many? The skateboarders squeezed onto the dilapidated basketball courts.

What made matters worse was the new courts were built by the city without proper drainage, adding to the fury of those who thought pentanque too gentrified for this urban park that is a key social blending point for the fabulously diverse church Hill

Les Boulefrogs were blamed.

“It’s a lot. It’s a lot more than we expected,” said Matt Morton, who set up the Users of Chimborazo Playground Facebook site to rally community members to get engaged in reshaping the park. “I think the people who use this park on a daily basis generally aren’t petanque players.”

Morton said it’s not really the Boulefrogs fault.

Critics say there aren’t enough players to fill the courts, which is true at this point.

There are plans to built a skate park between the petanque courts and the community garden, as well as to rehab the basketball courts.

But for now, the petanque courts have drained off much of the park’s redesign money.

Could Richmond actually become a petanque contender, like New York City, for example?

Les Boulefrogs would love for you to come out and join their ranks. The game is simple, a blend of croquet, horseshoes and shuffleboard. The park could actually could become petanque central for this region.

The courts are open every day, sunup to sundown. The club plays Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Les Boulefrogs of Church Hills website is http://boulefrogs.com/

Learn more about the game here: http://petanque-america.com/game.html