In a pickle; having a ball

It has nothing to do with the green garnish served with your sandwich from the deli. Instead it has to do with a game that players of all ages are hooked on and that is considered to be the fastest growing game in America.

The game is pickleball.

According to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) website, Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Wash. Three dads former Washington State representative and U.S. House of representative Joel Pritchard, businessman Bill Bell and Barney McCallum – were looking to find an activity to entertain their bored children. Improvising with an old badminton court, a perforated plastic ball and paddles made of plywood, they soon organized rules and the popularity of the game spread quickly from there.

The USAPA estimates there are more than 100,000 active players and pickleball facilities are located in all 50 states. The number of places to play across the U.S. has doubled since 2010. There are USAPA sanctioned tournaments held across the country and an annual USAPA Nationals tournament.

In Collins, opportunity met need as the 50-Plus Senior Program was looking for more activities for seniors. Pickleball was the answer.

“We needed something more for exercise and more activities for seniors,” said Lois Johnson, who heads up the pickleball activities in Collins.

“My husband and I visited with a friend in Arizona who played. We played a couple of games and got hooked. When we came home, I went to an open house at a place in Hamburg and brought another friend along with me. And then she got hooked,” she continued, “We played a few times in Hamburg and thought ‘why don’t we get a group started here in Collins?”

Johnson went on to explain that the 50-Plus Senior Program Pickleball is mainly open for those over the age of 50 but those over 40 are welcome to play as well. “Because of the skill level, it’s better to play with someone in a similar age group though anyone can play,” she explained.

The 50-Plus Senior Program bought equipment and taped out a court at the L.K. Painter Community Center. Pickleball began to grow from there.

“We started with six players and the most we’ve had is 10. Different people come at different times. We added a second day to accommodate more people’s schedules,” said Johnson.

While not part of the USAPA, the Collins players use the standard pickleball equipment. According to the USAPA, the pickleball court is the same size as a double badminton court and measures 20 by 44 feet. The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. For equipment, each player uses a pickleball paddle, which is smaller than a tennis racquet and larger than a ping-pong paddle. Paddles are typically made of wood, or composite materials such as aluminum or graphite. The ball has holes like a wiffleball and there are slightly different size balls for indoor or outdoor play.

Pickleball is often described as a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Players also comment on how easy it is to learn.

Collins resident Brenda Roth picked the game up after playing a couple times. “It’s very easy to learn. It’s a good sport for beginners at our age,” she said. “The hardest part is not hitting the ceiling when you serve and getting used to the paddles. Sometimes it feels like they should be a tennis racket but they are not.”

“There’s not a big learning curve. New players can learn just by showing up. We’re not really competitive and are just there for the fun of it. We laugh a lot,” said Johnson.

The camaraderie among the players is evident. The game moved along at a brisk pace. Shouts of “Good shot!” and “Get it!” volleyed back and forth as quickly as the ball did.

“I think it’s a fun group. The game is active but not too strenuous. I enjoy the community of it,” commented Roth.

Johnson summed up why players like playing pickleball. “The exercise that you get and it’s just fun. It’s easy enough to play. It’s certainly easier and slower than tennis!”

When visiting with the Collins players to learn about pickleball, they generously offered me a chance to try the game. Nervous at first, I marveled at how easy it was to hit the ball. The wooden paddle I used was lightweight but solid enough to send the plastic ball sailing across the net. Brenda Roth was correct in that it is hard to not hit the ceiling when serving. My first serve sailed straight up into the rafters of the gymnasium.

After playing through a few serves, I was hooked. The game is easy to learn and easy to play, though the workout it provides will get the heart pumping due to the pace at which the game goes. I was eager to continue playing.

For more information on pickleball, visit www.udsps.org.

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