Reader Essay: Pickleball, y’all

Get a load of this cool sport

by Mike Walsh

Pickleball? What’s pickleball?” I asked back in February 2010, when my wife, Lyn, and I were vacationing in the Florida sun. Our friend Dede, visiting us from Kansas City, explained that pickleball was a wonderful racquet game created in 1965 by two friends living in Washington state. Searching for an active game that could be played together by all ages of their family members, they considered net sports. The game they created on their driveway used a wiffle-type ball and incorporated key elements of tennis, table tennis, and badminton. According to legend, the name emerged when Pickles, the family cocker spaniel, chased and retrieved balls that were hit out of bounds into the lawn.

The prospect was intriguing. At 70 years old, I believed that racquet sports were a thing of the past for me since I had experienced elbow and shoulder problems from playing tennis. But when told that pickleball’s service stroke was an underhand shot, I was ready to try it.

At Dede’s urging, we searched the Internet for a location to play and found the community center in nearby Estero, Fla., for my introductory game. As we entered the gymnasium on the following Tuesday, I was surprised by how many seniors were actively playing and obviously enjoying themselves. Helpful people told me how to play, explained the system that was being used for determining player rotation and gave me a paddle, which looks like an overgrown ping-pong paddle. I then was introduced to the foursome with whom I was going to play, and when our game began I was immediately hooked. The quick volleying action, the smaller court, the friendliness of the players and the relative ease of play all were greatly appealing.

Estero’s activity proved to be a life-changing event. Upon returning to Cary that spring, I began working with Sam Trogdon, supervisor of the Bond Park Community Center, where we launched a program that October. Because pickleball was so new to Wake County, the start was a bit slow. I taught introductory courses, explaining this game with the funny name many times as more new folks arrived. A year later, I became a member of USA Pickleball Association and was subsequently named the first ambassador in the area, with specific responsibility for Cary.

Since then, my wife and I have been a part of additional program launches at Brier Creek’s subdivision, as well as at the Five Points Community Center, Hope Mills Community Center, Pinehurst Tennis Club and other locations, and have coordinated inter-club and tournament play in Cary too.

Area growth has greatly expanded, with more than 200 active players, a dozen venues and three additional ambassadors in the Cary/Raleigh area. Youth and senior instructional clinics have been held at both Bond Park and Brier Creek community centers. On April 12, pickleball was played as a demonstration sport at Bond Park Community Center as part of the Raleigh-Wake Senior Games. It is expected to be a sanctioned state-level event in 2014, which will allow North Carolina players to progress and play at the national level.

Lyn and I, who are regular players, enjoy the social interaction as much as the game itself and have made many new friends through it as well. We seek venues to play when we visit other cities and are convinced that the statement that pickleball is the fastest-growing game in America is true. No matter how old you are, you’ll enjoy playing it too.

For more on the sport, call Mike Walsh at (919) 747-1976 or visit usapa.com.