BY ADAM KENT-ISAAC
When aficionados describe pickleball as one of the fastest growing sports in the country, the inevitable question is, “Wait. What? Pickleball? What kind of name for a game is that?”
The moniker is a matter of debate; some say it comes from a dog named Pickles that was owned by the family of Washington State Congressman Joel Pritchard, who invented the game in 1965. However, Pritchard’s widow has said she started using the term because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and pingpong. It’s played on a badminton-sized, 20-foot-by-44-foot court, over a low net, with a perforated plastic ball (similar to a Wiffle ball) and lightweight paddles resembling those used in pingpong. Singles or doubles can play and matches typically go to 11 points.
According to the USA Pickleball Association, the game is “exploding in popularity,” particularly at community and retirement centers, with more than 2,000 sites in all 50 states registered with the association. Locally, it’s played at the Twin Lakes Recreation Center by a dedicated group of predominantly senior citizens.
Robert Shull, 78, one of the group’s founding members and a self-described “old hand” at pickleball, says he was introduced to the sport by a friend from Arizona. About three years ago people began playing regular matches at Twin Lakes.
The group isn’t officially organized, says Shull, but “the city is fully aware of us here, and they say they now have in their budget enough money to convert some of the under-used tennis courts into pickleball courts.”
Does one have to be a good athlete to participate? “As long as you play with people who are at your own skill level, you will have fun,” says Shull. “We have some people who are just not athletes, who come out and have a good time, and you can see them get better, week after week.”
Shull says it’s easy to get started. “All you have to do is come on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. Whenever we see a new face, we’re always eager to get them introduced to the game.” Pickleball is free for members at Twin Lakes; nonmembers pay $7 a day. See bloomington.in.gov/tlrc for membership options.