Rolle bolle unites families, young and old

Posted Online: July 13, 2014, 9:26 pm
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com
ANNAWAN -- Lori Kessel and her brother Shane don't waffle in their love for the Belgian sport of rolle bolle, which has been a fixture in their family for at least four generations.

Ms. Kessel -- a native of Carbon Cliff -- made the trek from her home in Melbourne, Fla., for the annual World Rolle Bolle Tournament on Sunday at Howes Park in Annawan.

She was one of dozens to take part in more than a half-dozen local rolle bolle events from Thursday to Sunday, including the second annual Chuck Naert Memorial Tournament on Thursday at Empire Park in East Moline, named in honor of her father, a Belgian and veteran boller who died on April 10, 2013.

"I enjoy coming back for the family aspect, seeing everybody," said Ms. Kessel, who moved from the Quad-Cities 15 years ago when her husband got a job at the Kennedy Space Center.

"It started with my family," she said of her affection for rolle bolle -- in which a 6-to-8.5-pound beveled, black rubber "bolle" is rolled across a 30-foot "court" of dirt or gravel toward a stake. Ms. Kessel and her brother grew up playing on a court in their backyard; their father and grandfather played for years.

"We traveled all around Canada, and Minnesota. Our vacations revolved around rolle bolle games," Ms. Kessel said. "I do enjoy it. When I come back, I see friends and family and spend most of our time at the rolle bolle court. It's fun for all ages."

"Dad would share stories that over 100 teams would participate when he played in the '70s and '80s," she said of the world tournament. '"They would have to turn the car lights on to the court because they wouldn't get done until 11 at night."

Shane Naert is president of the Hand 'n' Hand bolle club, which plays every other Monday night at Empire Park, from May to September.

"Dad was a die-hard boller, and it got into our blood," he said, pointing to his 11-year-old son Max, playing with one of the women's teams.

On Sunday, there were 29 men's teams and 17 women's (three players on each team) competing for cash prizes.

"You know, to be honest, in the middle of a basketball game, you can't pick up a Busch Light," Mr. Naert, a former hard-court player in school, said.

"You can have a 12-ounce in one hand and an 8-pounder in the other," said Gerry Verstraete, a 70-year-old Moliner and boller of 45 years-plus. "It's a great environment to be in."

"It's a game you can play until you can't walk anymore," the retired postal worker said, noting two 92-year-old men participated Sunday, including Father Gerald VerHoye, retired priest from St. Anthony's Church, Annawan, who gave an invocation at the tournament's start.

The world tournament -- highlighted by flags of Belgium, the U.S. and Canada over the string of 26 connected courts -- started in 1948 in Princeton and has been held in Annawan for the past 25 years, Mr. Verstraete said.

Paul Lanouette, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, made the 14-hour drive to play as he has for years. The son of a Belgian mother and French father, he's been coming to the area for rolle bolle since 1978.

"It's a lot of fun. I see a lot of the same people," he said, adding that he also plays in tournaments in Minnesota and Iowa. Mr. Lanouette was one of many bollers who played in the rain Saturday night in Atkinson.

Lavern Baele, of Annawan, said his 20-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter are starting to get into it.

Allison DeBrock, 13, who goes to Bureau Valley North Junior High School, won first in state in women's teams Saturday in Geneseo, and her brother, Riley, 21, came in second in men's teams.

"It's just fun," said Allison, who also plays volleyball and basketball. "I've been doing it about five years. I picked it up from my family."

"For a sport that had no women bollers at all, it has come a long ways," Mr. Verstraete said.

Other upcoming rolle bolle tournaments include Aug. 23 at the Atkinson Fall Fest; Sept. 1 at Stephens Park in Moline, and Sept. 14 at the Flemish Fall Fest, also in Stephens Park.


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