By Sue Botos
What exactly is pickleball?
As a group of 10 people gathered at the Rocky River Recreation Center gym recently found out, it has nothing to do with the childhood game of Pickle in the Middle or a round kosher dill.
What they found was a rapidly growing sport that is best described as a mash-up of tennis, badminton and ping-pong that can be played indoors or outdoors by all ages and skill levels with a paddle and a plastic ball.
“It’s all the rage in Florida,” Mary Jane Hadaway said as she prepared to try pickle-
ball for the first time. She said she and her sister Tish Blasdell, who lives in Columbiana, decided to give the game a try as something to do together while Blasdell was in town.
Tennis player Ron Windell agreed, stating that he saw the sport played in Florida, but was giving it a shot for the first time.
According to the sport’s website, www.usapa.org, the game was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, Wash., by three dads, then-U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, whose children were bored with the usual summertime game fare. The story goes that they named the sport after the Pritchard family dog Pickles, who delighted in making off with the ball.
While the current version of pickleball does not include a dog, it has evolved to include a specific set of rules. “The scoring is a little complicated, but it will come as you play,” said Connie Witt, who learned to play in The Villages, a community north of Orlando, Fla.
A low net, similar to a tennis net, divides the 20- by 44-foot court, with is similar in size to that used in badminton. It’s striped like a tennis court with right and left service areas and a 7-foot nonvolley zone, known as “the kitchen,” in front of the net. It can be played either in a singles or doubles format.
Each player has a paddle, which is smaller than a tennis racquet but larger than a ping-pong paddle. Originally made of wood, the solid paddles are now fashioned from lightweight composite materials like aluminum and graphite. The ball resembles a whiffle ball with holes of varying sizes, which make its bounce rather unpredictable.
“The ball does have a mind of its own,” Nick Szantkiralyi commented.
“It’s good exercise and it’s not as hard on your knees as tennis,” commented Witt, who came equipped with her own paddle.
Recreation center program supervisor Krissie Miller said that this was the third meeting for pickleball, and the feedback has been positive. “People have said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you guys are finally getting this,’” she stated.
The pickleball group meets on Fridays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., and participants can stay for all or part of the time. Miller said a second time will soon be offered on Tuesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. As of now, the program is a drop-in offering with a cost of $3 for rec center members and SilverSneakers members, $4 for resident nonmembers and $5 for nonresidents. She said that it will become a fee-based program with a drop-in option in the fall.