Catching Petanque Fever

How the Humble Sport of Lawn Bowling has Revolutionized Shannon Hodge’s French Program

Kirsten Halling, Associate Professor of French, Wright State University

After many years of playing amateur petanque matches with her French students on special occasions, Shannon Hodge, French teacher at Bellefontaine High School, was introduced to the world of competitive petanque in 2013 and has never looked back. Pretty much everything about Shannon’s story is surprising and unlikely: first, she teaches in the small town of Bellefontaine, with some 13,000 residents; second, the club she belongs to, the Petanque Club of Zanesfield, is located in an even smaller town of some 200 people; third, hers is the only official petanque club in Ohio to belong to the FPUSA (Federation of Petanque USA); and fourth, Shannon’s club is the only one in the entire US to hold a juniors’ tournament and, as such, has become a model for petanque clubs throughout the country. Shannon overflows with passion when she speaks about her favorite subject and its positive impact on her students and her community. The sport, which does not require perfect physical fitness, she laughs, is accessible to all and provides her students many benefits: “In a world where young people are so often behind a screen, petanque practice and tournaments give kids a reason to interact in groups outdoors.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 8.48.12 PMThe sport of petanque gives Shannon a meaningful context for many of her French lessons: students learn the vocabulary necessary to the sport because they want to play and win! They learn verbs such as aim, throw and score while performing those very actions. As a sports activity that necessarily demands the engagement of the mind and the body, students naturally learn the vocabulary associated with the parts of the body and various movements: bend your knees, extend your arm, etc. They learn prepositions for determining the location or desired location of the cochonnet (the jack) or the boules (balls): near, far, next to, to the right of, etc. They practice the comparative and superlative (closer, farther, nearest, etc); they learn the possessive adjectives and pronouns: Is that your ball? No, it’s mine. They practice their numbers by counting points and measuring distances (in centimeters, of course!) and they can ask and answer questions, such as, C’est à qui de jouer? (Whose turn is it?). Advanced level students can even practice the subjunctive in question form: Tu veux que je défende le point? In sum, the game of petanque provides a limitless context for practicing real-world applied language.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 8.48.25 PMAs part of the FPUSA, the Petanque Club of Zanesfield provides countless opportunities for its members to meet people from all over the world in the context of tournaments and workshops. Shannon’s students join the club for the low student price of $5.00 per year, receiving a picture ID and the right to participate in any national tournament in the league. In addition to holding a juniors tournament, the club organizes workshops and petanque parties for the junior members throughout the year. Last June, one of the biggest stars in the world of petanque, Marco Foyot, chose to hold a full-day workshop in Zanesfield, as he was impressed by Zanesfield’s emphasis on recruiting and retaining junior members and the club’s disproportionately large size given the population of the city. Not only did Shannon’s principal enthusiastically allow forty of her upper-level students to participate in this field trip/workshop, he also publically stated that it was the most important cultural event of the year. Students learned techniques and tricks from a seven-time world champion and met other Francophones who had come to the workshop for the privilege of working with the master.

Shannon believes that this collective passion for petanque is largely responsible for her incredibly high enrollments in French. She is now teaching an overload, with two extra sections of French, and her French Club currently has eighty active members, which should grow to one hundred by the end of the year! In addition, the sport has renewed her passion for teaching and has provided her with some professional development experience that she could never have anticipated. Given the popularity of petanque in French-speaking countries, she is constantly meeting Francophones from all over the world. She served as guide and interpreter for Marco Foyot and often interacts with the Zanesfield Club’s two French-speaking Moroccan members. In addition, when she travels with the team, she meets French-speaking petanque players everywhere she goes. In fact, Shannon says, “If you want to speak French, join a petanque club!”

Shannon would be more than happy to help anyone begin a petanque club and eventually become part of the FPUSA. The first step would be to join the Federation as an independent member by downloading a form from this site:, then recruit other members. Once there is enough interest, the FPUSA can provide support for developing an official club.


This entry was posted in OFLA News: Association, Vol. 53, No. 1 - Fall 2014. Bookmark the permalink.

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