French game of pétanque finds a home in Gainesville

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Sarah Lauerman took an interest in French culture and was intrigued by the sport of pétanque (peh-tonk). She wanted to learn how to speak French and engage with the culture further, so she started a club around the sport.

Lauerman is now the president of Gainesville Pétanque, a club she started in 2017 with informal meetings. The club has since grown to include 50 members and is played at two public courts in north Gainesville. Lauerman even had the sport included in the Gainesville Senior Games.

“As it turns out, it really ended up being nothing about me learning how to speak French or work on my French,” Lauerman said. “It’s become much more of a social club.”

The sport of pétanque is similar to the Italian game of Bocce (bah-chee), which is more popular in the U.S. Teams take turns trying to get their ball, or boule in French, closest to the marker ball, called a but or a cochonnet (co-sho-nay). The team farthest from the marker ball continues to throw until they are closer than their opponent. At the end of the round, whichever team is closest to the marker ball gets a point for each boule of theirs that is closer to that marker ball than their opponent’s closest boule.

Lauerman’s goal is to keep the club open to anyone regardless of age and experience with the sport. The club’s oldest member is 93-year-old Raul Bermejo.

Pétanque is played with metal balls, called boules, that are thrown toward a marker ball, called a but or a cochonnet. (Jensen Young/WUFT News)

Bermejo joined the club near the end of 2021. He said he learned about the sport from a French friend, and he attends meetups with the club a couple of times every month.

“French people introduced me, and I enjoy the game and I have a good time here,” Bermejo said.

Gainesville Pétanque also has members who are French natives and French-speaking. 

Lauerman worked with the City of Gainesville to build two public courts at two parks in the north of Gainesville. Through the Wild Spaces and Public Places program, she helped create courts at Northside Park in 2020 and San Felasco Park in 2022. 

“It’s allowed us to have more exposure,” vice president of Gainesville Pétanque Greg Johnson said. “That’s the big point – that we want to spread the word that this is a game that’s a lot of fun and it’s multigenerational.”

The players enjoy sharing the sport with new faces. They always have extra boules to play with, magnets on strings to pick up the boules for those who struggle with bending down to grab them, and they are happy to teach new people how to play the game.

“I think word of mouth and then people just stumbling upon us just asking ‘what is this?’” Lauerman said about welcoming new members. “We have some business cards and we’re always open to introducing ourselves so people just find out what the schedule is and start showing up.”

Lauerman continues to expand the club and its reach as much as she can. In 2022, she created a new court in San Felasco Park that opened in May, and she got pétanque into the Gainesville Senior Games for the first time in September. 

Just like the evolution of pétanque in Gainesville, the members always learn and get better with each game.

“It’s five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master,” Johnson said.

About Jensen Young

Jensen is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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