by Gina De Joy
Gina De Joy of the South Florida Pétanque Club reports from Ghent, Belgium, where she competed on Team USA for the prestigious Henri Bernard Trophy.
After a few days at the Ghent venue, we, Team USA knew our way around. We were sent down the track, under the stands to line up for the parade of Countries. Each country was lead by a child who would carry the country team sign. Teams, lined up alphabetically. The thrill and excitement was not only ours, but belonged to all teams and each sign-carrying child. We were given a USA flag and immediately decided to have Peter Matthis carry it in honor of Paul Yang who could not be there with us. He was with us in spirit and we were reminded of it as Peter wore Paul’s uniform with “YANG” across the back.
As the stadium band began drumming, the line began to move. Just as we reached the entrance, we heard the cheering and applause. In all honesty, political issues made me think that no one would cheer on the USA, but I was wrong. We entered the stadium and heard shouts of “USA” and saw strangers, friends and groups applauding us and cheering us on as we paraded around the arena. We waved back. Our smiles could not have been wider, nor could the overwhelming thrill of marching with teams from around the globe all of whom shared our passion for the game of pétanque.
After the parade, we had photo opportunities with countries from around the world, with champions we admired, opponents, and friends. We had trained and practiced endless hours to become part of TEAM USA and it was finally a reality.
The whirlwind tournament was full of nonstop games. We were on the bus by 7:30 am each morning and returned to the hotel at 11 pm each day. We played our hearts out, we fought, we watched, we applauded and we were thrilled to be a part of such an astounding event.
International and World Game tournaments are proceedings that are hard to imagine until one is a participant. The crowds and noise are ever present, the tension palpable, and the nerves kick in. You focus on each throw, on a terrain you have never played on. You try and remember your training. You try and remember what strategy you had planned on using. All of it is gone with the wind as you struggle to keep yourself calm and focused.
We, Team USA, were so excited to be in Ghent, to meet new teams, old friends, and people we have watched on YouTube videos. We were eager to exhibit the skills we had practiced for endless hours, days, weeks, and months. Exhibit we did and we gave each opponent an unforgettable battle. We lost some, we won some, and we made sure that everyone knew we were a team not be overlooked. Happy to have been part of TEAM USA, I would travel with Shannon Hodge, John Harris, and Peter Matthis in a moment. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for each member of TEAM USA. The skill, effort, and endless support of each member is unforgettable. Peter, who filled in for Paul Yang gave each game his all. He stepped in at the last moment and was a tremendous asset, not only cheering each of us on, keeping scores, but also having a positive attitude. John snapped into his competitive mode and with focus and determination, was a strong competitor. Shannon, who turned into a pointing machine, found her groove and demonstrated why she was at the World Games. After initially struggling with tough draws, I found my rhythm and played with determination, but the tournament format changed on Friday and we were told that we would not have a third day of games, unfortunately it was just as TEAM USA had adjusted and found momentum. The organizers decided to not have a final round of games in order have 16 teams move forward, rather than the scheduled eight.
On the bright side we had a group of supporters who travelled to be there with us. My long-lost high school and new pétanque-player friend , Tracy Overby came with her family from Geneva, Linda and Carl Motschiedler from Fresno came by, Chrissy Lion and Mark Greenberg from Los Angeles travelled in support. Tish Harris, who accompanied her husband, John Harris, did double duty, not only providing support for the team, but reporting and posting for the FPUSA.
The heartbreak of seeing a team that we had played and lost to by one point moving up into the top eight was tremendous but inspiring, knowing that we almost made it. As Shannon and I prepare ourselves for the World Triples in China, we have confidence that with each international tournament behind us, our experience, determination, and dedication will only prepare us to become a top ranked team. All of us, John, Shannon, Peter, and I want to thank the FPUSA for giving us the opportunity and the means to represent and play in Ghent. Thank you to all who came to support us, thank you to all who donated to the team’s gofundme accounts and a big thanks to all of you who supported us in spirit. Goose bumps are up and down my arms as I recall the amazing experience.
Dan is the President of the FPUSA
Shannon is the Secretary of the FPUSA and Chairman of the Communications Committee.
Nan is a Member of the Communications Committee, Editor of this Blog, and Webmaster of the FPUSA Website.