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Kim Vanderstelt reached in front of her partner, Hyong Lee, and whacked a backhand shot en route to winning gold at a recent Apple Valley Community Center pickleball tournament.

RKM Photos,

Jerry Goodrich

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My View: Pickleball continues to gain fans as year-round sport for all ages

  • Article by: JERRY GOODRICH
  • February 25, 2014 - 2:03 PM

Is life one humdrum day after another? If so, pickleball is the cure for you. Have you drifted into a sedentary lifestyle, wanting to get into shape and get rid of those extra pounds, but just can’t take that first step? Pickleball is just what the doctor ordered.

Do you want to make some new friends? Pickleball is the ticket. Have you given up your favorite participant sport, because your joints are creaking and you are not as competitive as you used to be? Pickleball is the answer. Are you fit as a fiddle and lovin’ life? Pickleball is for you, too.

Is pickleball the wonder sport destined for the Olympics, with middle-aged men and women competing for gold, silver, and bronze? If I have anything to do with it, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

I tried out the sport recently and, for many reasons, was immediately hooked. It doesn’t require expensive equipment or much time, can be played year-round by virtually anyone of any age (one Apple Valley player is 93), improves hand-eye coordination and balance, raises your heartbeat and metabolism rate, promotes good sportsmanship, and is fun vs. the often-boring workout at a fitness club. It is typically played two against two (doubles) and thus is an enjoyable social outing, as well.

For those of you who are hearing about pickleball for the very first time, allow me to relate some history, explain what it is, and tell you how it got its unusual name.

Three couples were sharing a pleasant weekend on Bainbridge Island, west of Seattle, in the mid-60s. When the husbands returned from a morning of golf, the wives said, “It’s your turn to watch the kids,” and left. The children soon got on the guys’ nerves. One of the fathers found some pingpong paddles and a Wiffle ball, gave them to the youngsters and told them to go outside and play. Two hours passed, and the kids hadn’t returned. Their fathers checked on them and found that they were having the time of their lives.

The rest is, of course, history. A new sport was born and, with the founding fathers tweaking the rules, paddle design, and court size over many months, it evolved to what it is today.

Pickleball is a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong. It is played with a large wooden or composite paddle and a Wiffle ball on a court one-third the size of a tennis court. Its net is lower than a tennis-court net, and its rules “level the playing field” for all. For example, you must serve underhand, and rushing to the net to smash the ball is not allowed.

Folklore has it that pickleball was named after a cocker spaniel (Pickles) who kept disrupting games by running off with the ball — endearing, but not true. In a newspaper article, Joan Pritchard, wife of one of the sport’s architects, stated: “The name of the game became pickleball after I commented that it reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen are chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”

Pritchard’s comment makes sense. If you go to a pickleball court, you will see teams constantly changing as waiting players (“leftovers”) fill in spaces created by players moving to other courts or departing.

In the south metro, the Apple Valley Community Center continues to be the hotbed for pickleball. It has six indoor courts available from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. A $3 rental fee gets you a paddle, ball and use of a court. Six new outdoor courts will be available at the center beginning in mid-July. “Along with our indoor courts, these new outdoor courts will enable us to conduct many more tournaments throughout the year,” said Steve Skinner, recreational director.

Indoor pickleball is also available in the Glendale Elementary School gymnasium in Savage on Wednesdays, 6:30-8:30 p.m., through March 19. Indoor play on that court will resume in early November.

In Prior Lake, outdoor pickle­ball courts are available in the warm months on Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to noon, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., on the hilltop public tennis court near downtown. Jim Miller is the “ambassador for pickleball” for Prior Lake and has a business card to prove it. A former tennis coach, he has introduced scores of people throughout the south metro to pickleball. Here’s his take on the sport:

“What’s neat about pickle­ball is that a match is only 11 points and lasts just 10 to 15 minutes. Then you can sit down if you’re tired and let someone take your place, or keep on playing. Pickleball is a happy revelation for women who were in school when sports weren’t offered for girls. These women give the sport a try and suddenly realize, ‘Wow, I can do this!’ It’s fun to watch them take on their husbands and clean their clocks.”

Other locations for indoor and/or outdoor pickleball are the Burnsville YMCA, Claret Park Rosemount, Shakopee Community Center, Eagan Community Center, Bloomington Armory, Eagan YMCA, West St. Paul YMCA, Southdale YMCA, Highland Park, and Merriam Park. Contact me at jgoodrich@erols.com if you want information on these locations.

Although older adults make up most of the pickleball players, more and more young people are getting involved. Typically, this happens when their parents or grandparents take them to a court and kick their behinds. They are not going to let that happen again, so they take up the sport seriously, get their revenge, and then continue playing because it’s so competitive and so much fun.

I encourage you to give pickle­ball a try. Will you be hooked as I was? There’s only one way to find out, and I already know the answer.

 

Jerry Goodrich is a Prior Lake resident.



 

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