Many may not know it, but pétanque is a serious sport. It involves sweat, tears and, of course, brightly colored balls.
The Barefoot Bocce League has been active in Long Beach since 2014, when its founder, 73-year-old Arnie Peltz, built two courts on Riverside Boulevard near the beach, where the Superblock is currently under development. The courts were then part of what was called Barefoot Mini-Golf, as there was mini-golf next door.
Two years before Covid hit, Peltz and the other players started looking for a new place to play, and they found a bigger, quieter place: They are now at the Long Beach Recreation Center, next to the park for dogs and overlooking Reynolds Channel.
The city, Peltz said, initially gave him two options for new courts — next to the dog park, or at Clark Street Park, in the Canals. After considering the relatively congested residential area of Clark Street and the noise league play would likely generate, he chose the former.
“We moved here about two years before Covid,” Peltz said. “I fixed it and built this new spot with my own money.”
This year, its fifth season at the Rec Center, the league drew the biggest crowds yet for its championship game this month – around 20 spectators. Three teams, Turkey Eye Balls, Bocce Bros, and My Balls Always Touch, played for the championship, and Turkey Eye Balls won it. They received a trophy after the final match.
The league consists of 35 teams, with four to eight players each. Teams play on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays for 10 weeks, starting in June, until the playoffs. Players can join a team or as solo competitors and be added to a team, even if they don’t know how to play. About half of the teams currently competing have been in the league from the start.
“I’ve been playing since the league’s first year, but I joined a new team this year,” said Shari Riechelson, a member of a team called Let It Roll. “The vibe here is good — there’s music and a great group of people. It’s a hidden secret.
A game of petanque begins when a member of the first pitching team throws a small ball called the jack, or target, onto the field. The teams then throw their bocce balls trying to land as close to the jack as possible without crossing a fault line. After each team throws a ball, the team whose ball is furthest from the jack throws the rest of their balls, then the other team follows.
Points are awarded to the team with one or more balls that are closer to the jack than the other team’s balls. The Barefoot Bocce League measures distance, as needed, with a tin can to which a string is attached. The closest balls earn one point, and two if they hit the jack. Matches are played to 12 points.
“Take the box!” can often be heard when friendly scoring disputes arise.
Nicole “Nicky” Fader took over as league manager from Peltz last year after playing for several years. “She has the personality to lead it,” Peltz said, “and brings a key social media side.”
Fader is known around Long Beach — and apparently, in Puerto Rico, where she’s been this spring — as “Bocce Lady,” a title she’s fond of.
“I went to Puerto Rico in May and met people from three different teams in the league,” she said. “I was on vacation and surrounded by pétanque.”
The Long Beach bocce league plans to grow over the next few years. Fader and Peltz want to allow more teams to join and have also considered adding a fourth day of play during the 10-week season.