Thibodaux Resident Spreads Passion For French Game

THIBODAUX, LA (AP) — After learning a unique sport in Europe, one Thibodaux resident hopes his passion for the game will catch on in the Houma-Thibodaux area.

         Al Guarisco, a 72-year-old Morgan City native, learned to play petanque while traveling with his family several times to France, his wife's native country.

         "When I first mention it (in Thibodaux), most people I talk to ask if it's a person," Guarisco said with a laugh.

         The goal of petanque (pronounced "pay-tonk"), which is most popular in southern France, is to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to the cochonnet, a small wooden ball, while standing inside a circle with both feet on the ground.

         "You're trying to get your balls closer to the little wooden ball than the others' (balls)," Guarisco said. "For as many balls that you get closer, you get points. You measure which balls are the closest to the cochonnet, and a match goes up to 13 points. You get six balls on each team, and each round is called an 'end.' "

         It's relatively unknown in the Houma-Thibodaux area, but Guarisco, who calls himself a petanque evangelist, has made it his mission to spread his knowledge of the game. He even created his own team called Swamp Petanque, with 21 members from the Houma-Thibodaux area.

         "The U.S. has about 50 official clubs," he said. "Lafayette is the nearest place with a club that we know of."

         Ed Hammerli, 70, of Thibodaux, said Guarisco introduced him to petanque about five years ago, and since then, he has been an active member of the Swamp Petanque crew.

         To create the perfect playing conditions, Guarisco built three playing spaces in his backyard more than 10 years ago with each court measuring in at four meters by 12 meters long.

         "Once I got back here with the balls (from France), I started fixing this old driveway and putting down some sand and fine gravel," he said.

         While games of petanque can be played on a one-on-one, two-on-two or three-on-three basis, Guarisco said his group often plays in groups of two-on-two.

         "I believe that once you play this game and see how simple but also how social it is, it's attractive," he said. "Anyone can play this game. I've introduced this to a lot of people who thought they were not good at any physical activity. They have a great time because it is rewarding and such a simple game. In 10 minutes, you can learn enough to play and beat someone who has been playing for years."

         In summer 2013, Guarisco participated in a petanque tournament with his wife and son in Marseille, France.

         "It was interesting to see a tournament of that size," he said. "It was football-field-size with nothing but petanque tournaments."

         In the U.S., Guarisco has traveled as far as Seattle to compete in tournaments, but more often than not, he plays close to home.

         Whether playing in Guarisco's backyard or at a tournament in Lafayette, Hammerli said the game is always accompanied by a friendly atmosphere.

         "It's a great social game; that's what it's really all about — getting together with people and being outside," Hammerli said. "The competition comes as an afterthought for me and, I think, for most people out there."

         For more information on the local club, visit the Swamp Petanque page on Facebook.

         – by AP/ Reporter Kate Mabry with The Daily Comet

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