The 2016 Annual International Rolle Bolle (row-lee bow-lee) Tournament was held August 11-14 at two different venues, one in Marshall, Minnesota and the other in Ghent, Minnesota, which is known as the Rolle Bolle Capital of the World. The event was hosted by Chauncey Welvaert and his team of volunteers. The International brings in Canadians from Winnipeg and beyond, plus Americans from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Good sportsmanship and fun were seen everywhere. Off the court, all the waiting players and their friends and families, were picnicking, playing cards, texting or catching up with friends from elsewhere.
What the heck is Rolle Bolle you ask? Well, it’s Belgian Bowling
with a twist. Instead of a ball they use a 6-8 inch diameter by 2 ½ inch thick, solid, hard-rubber wheel that looks like a giant hockey puck. Rolle Bolle is sort of a cross between Curling and Horseshoes played on a 42 ft. long alley with 2 stakes placed 30 ft. apart. The object is to roll your bolle to the other end of the alley, as close to the stake as possible. Then your opponent has the choice of trying to get closer than you, or trying to hit your bolle away from the stake. There are three people on a team and the first team to eight points wins. Oh yes, did I tell you the circumference of the bolle is machined at an angle so it doesn’t roll straight? That’s the twist! That angle determines how big a curve the bolle takes as it’s rolling to the stake.
The origins of rolle bolle are unclear. Some theorize that the game originated in Belgian iron foundries more than a hundred years ago. The axles of ore-filled slag cars bent due to excessive weight, wearing down the inside of the cars` wheels. As the wheels were discarded, workers started rolling them for fun, and the game soon developed.
Now that you know a little about Rolle Bolle, let me share what I learned about the game this past weekend. First of all, it’s not a bunch of Belgian Farmers getting together for an excuse to drink. This was a family outing, a four day event that brought families and generations together. In the Class B Men’s Championship, both teams had 3 generations on their team (son, father, and grandfather). In the Novice Championship, the winners had two sisters and the runners up, was a mom and her two daughters. The runners up of the Men’s Class A Championship had two brothers and a cousin. Between matches, young children were on the alleys, playing with child sized bolles.
I asked a lot of young people, who taught them how to play? The answers were my brother, my mother, my grandfather, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, always family. Maybe that’s what America needs, a lot more Rolle Bolle and a lot less phone apps.
My wife and I met a lot of new friends during the weekend and I can say it made me very proud of my Belgian heritage, and proud that the company I work for, Stern Rubber Company, molds, bonds, and extrudes rubber parts including the bolles used in Rolle Bolle!