Americans Tackle 500-year-old Belgian Tradition
March 14, 2008
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - For more than 500 years, ChiAfA..vres residents have been extending the "Fat Tuesday" party by playing Crossage on Ash Wednesday.
Every Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, area residents gather in the streets of ChiAfA..vres to play the golf-like, medieval sport of Crossage, or chole, as it's also known. If it is a medieval ancestor to golf, it requires more Arnold Schwarzenegger strength than Tiger Wood finesse. In today's terms, it is more like croquet on steroids.
The origin of the team game, which can also be played in a field, is actually unknown, though it is popular in northern France and French-speaking areas of southern Belgium.
This year, more than 35 Americans stationed at Caserne Daumerie or ChiAfA..vres Air Base participated in the event.
Crossage involves hitting a wooden ball, called a chAfA'lette (pronounced: show-let), with a wooden club, or rabot (pronounced: rah-bo), in the direction of a target. A team can have only one chAfA'lette in play at a time. Whenever a player is ready to swing, he or she must yell: "ChAfA'lette."
There are more than 600 players playing simultaneously with several avenues and alleyways clogged as teams travel in every direction similar to a shotgun start on the golf course with each team determining which target to aim at next with no particular order required.
The rules are simple, though they tend to fall by the wayside the faster players toddle from keg to keg:
*The objective: Slam the wooden ball with the mallet into the target.
*The target: A metal beer keg outside a tavern or club entrance.
*There are anywhere from 18 to 26 kegs spread throughout the village.
"In one word, it's war," said Maj. Sonja Dyer, a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, and the only American woman to play this year. "I was skeptical at first, but I figured I should give it a try and it was a great experience."
Dyer added that she "really enjoyed being able to participate with ChiAfA..vres residents in a game that has been their tradition for hundreds of years."
As with most medieval games there are cobblestone streets, chatter and clatter as spoils go to winners.
While playing builds camaraderie and friendship with our host nation partners, there are spoils of victory to consume - beer. The losing team at each keg buys beverage for the winners.
"There is no one word to describe the game other than crazy," said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Kloss, with HHC, USAG Benelux. "My favorite moment was when Sgt. Bryant Earley hit the keg (from about one meter) and started running around the street like he had just hit a hole in one."
It's not just Soldiers hacking around the streets. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Scott Hennarty traveled from Omaha, Neb., to play - for his third consecutive year of competition. His partner was contractor Dave Budington.
"This is the most fun I had in my three years living in Belgium," said HHC, USAG Benelux 1st Sgt. Thomas Frankhouser. Frankhouser, slowed by a foot injury, used a walking-cast and crutches to traverse the Crossage course for his third year of play also. "There is absolutely nothing like it in America. I just might have to fly back and play again next year."
"Crossage was more fun than I expected; I would most definitely recommend everyone come out at least once during their tour," Dyer said. "The locals were great and seemed to really enjoy having us along. They were also helpful with giving us newbies some tips on playing."