CHIAfaEURoVRES, Belgium Aca,!" ItAca,!a,,cs a quaint city lined with narrow cobblestone streets, a historic church and Belgian pubs, but on Ash Wednesday, the beauty and peacefulness of ChiAfA..vres, Belgium, turned into all out mayhem.

Wooden balls the size of grapefruits went zipping by every which way, as pedestrians ran for cover, ducking into the nearest doorways they could find.

Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs a battle zone,Aca,!A? Shannon Wilson yelled as she scurried for shelter.

But just as soon as she escaped one flying ball, she ran back to the streets to knock a ball of her own down the road. Aca,!A"ChAfA'lette,Aca,!A? she yelled, forewarning bystanders to watch out.

Wilson, who works with the 39th Signal Battalion on Daumerie Caserne, was one of nearly 70 Americans and NATO personnel who took to the streets of ChiAfA..vres to join Belgians in the centuries-old game of Crossage.

It was perhaps the best American turnout ever, doubling last yearAca,!a,,cs participation estimates.

Wilson and her team of four women and one teenage boy walked the short distance from the Caserne Daumerie to ChiAfA..vres with their rabots (or mallets) in hand not knowing what to expect. Along the way, they passed Belgians peeking through their temporarily-boarded up windows.

When they arrived in ChiAfA..vres, they met their competitionAca,!"an all-male team of Americans and Brits from the NATO Communication and Information Systems Services Agency. No one on either team had played before, and no one knew what the rules of play really were.

After a ceremonial swing by Andy Dermanoski kicked off Crossage play, the two teams shrugged their shoulders, looked at each other and said, Aca,!A"letAca,!a,,cs go.Aca,!A?

They grabbed their uniquely decorated rabots, placed a ChAfA'lette on the ground in the Grand Place and chose their first target. It was a keg quite a few feet up a narrow road. The challenge is that the road was lined with people.

Aca,!A"ChAfA'lette,Aca,!A? was yelled by all, and the players continued to alternate swings until one team got their ball to the keg first. Round one went to the NCSA team, meaning the ladies had to buy the first round of drinks.

Having split off from other American teams, they began to observe their surroundings.

Some locals like Patrick Smet wore the traditional Crossage uniform, while others came in camouflage and afro wigs. Unlike the new, scratch-free mallets that the Americans carried, the BelgiansAca,!a,,c rabots showed signs of some serious Crossage play, which encouraged the teams to get back into the action.

As no rules were set in place, the NCSA team (or Chris Newth Organization League as one player named them) started out a little easy on the ladies, allowing them to win the next two rounds.

At each stop, the players sampled some local food, Belgian beer and the company of the locals.

Aca,!A"This is the best cultural experience for Americans and international teams,Aca,!A? Trevor Evans, a player on the NCSA team, said.

After the break, it was game on. The teams realized that the next target was only about four feet from the last target. Pressure mounted as Wilson stood behind her ChAfA'lette.

She aimed; she hooked it into the air and the now-familiar clunk of wood meeting metal signaled success. The ladies screamed and jumped and taunted the men. It was up to Ponce Espinoza to make the shot.

He aimed; he swung, but he missed. Aca,!A"From a hero to a zero,Aca,!A? he said as everyone laughed and pointed him to the bar where his team had to buy another round.

It was at this moment that the NCSA team decided they were back in the game to win, but unfortunately for them, the ladies team, with the help of Marco Gonzalez, kept winning keg after keg.

Then, it got serious. A city bus pulled up at the edge of town and dozens of people got off, carrying their rabots. They were all heading toward the two teams.

Aca,!A"ChAfA'lette. ChAfA'lette. ChAfA'lette,Aca,!A? people kept yelling. There was no avoiding the pandemonium. A ball hit Wilson on the foot, another hit another playerAca,!a,,cs calf. The road was barely wide enough to fit a car, and balls were flying from each direction.

Aca,!A"I didnAca,!a,,ct think it would be like a war zone,Aca,!A? said Mark Edwards.

Aca,!A"It was like shotgun alley,Aca,!A? his teammate Evans added. Aca,!A"I didnAca,!a,,ct realize CBA (combat body armor) and helmet were a mandatory requirement.Aca,!A?

The players had circled the town and made their way back to the square. With the women still in the lead, they all took a break at a pub. It was shoulder room only. Belgians were all singing traditional pub songs and jumping up and down. Not knowing the words, the Americans belted out a few songs of their own, and then joined the Belgians dancing around the bar.

Aca,!A"The interchange has been better than I thought it would be,Aca,!A? Evans said.

Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs a wonderful opportunity to speak French,Aca,!A? Edwards added.

There were a few kegs left to hit as the sun was starting to set. The teams worked their way up toward the Caserne Daumerie, and Espinoza regained his glory as he made the last point for the men. The unofficial final score was 19-2, but according to EspinozaAca,!a,,cs daughter, Gabriella, the score was Aca,!A"however many holes weAca,!a,,cve played to one.Aca,!A?

The streets of ChiAfA..vres are now back to normal. The boards are off the windows and cars are passing through, but on Feb. 17, 2010, be prepared to duck and cover as Crossage returns and the town keeps the tradition alive.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16