Rolle bolle is a Belgian game related to horseshoes, ten pin bowling, and bocce ball. Europeans turned to such games after the Reformation, when they were sanctioned by the church in village leagues and competitions.

Rolle Bolle is played on bare ground with stakes, each protruding two to four inches from the ground and set thirty feet apart. The object of the game is to land your bolle as close to a stake as possible, by rolling the bolle down the rolle bolle alley from the opposite stake. The level alley is usually made of hard clay, dirt, or sand with wooden backstops on either end. The alley is traditionally forty-two feet long and at least twelve feet wide.

Traditionally, the bolle was made of wood, but the modern game is played with ones of hard rubber. Usually six to eight inches in diameter and four inches wide, bolles weigh from six to eight and a half pounds. Because the bolle is beveled to one side, it will turn toward the stake in a curve when rolled. The bolle closest to the stake scores.

Rolle bolle can be played with teams of two to six players, although three is most common. Each player has one bolle. The players called "shooters" roll, or shoot, their bolle with enough force to knock out the bolle of an opponent closest to the stake. Shooting a bolle employs a similar motion to pitching a softball underhand.

Rolle bolle is especially popular in the American Midwest. Moline, Illinois is home to some of the earliest American teams. It was in Moline in 1978 that a dentist and retired woodworker invented a table-top version of rolle bolle. Collaboration with the Center for Belgian Culture created the game of miniature walnut bolles rolled on a tiny table ov Astroturf.

Elsewhere in Illinois, in the town of Hooppole, rolle bolle has made its mark on the culture. Belgian immigrants have created a huge rosary made from bolles of deceased congregants of the St. Mary of the Fields Catholic Church. The heart-shaped rosary of bolles graces the garden of the church for visitors to see.

I've personally seen this game played on hot summer days in rural Iowa. The peculiar sport draws the young and old, and is most certainly a game generally enjoyed by tight, local communities. When age permits, copious amounts of alcohol and consequent drunkenness are present.


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