Pickleball gains fans in Oberlin

Pick-pock, pick-pock — the noise echoed throughout the Splash Zone field house as 12 pickleball players hit a wiffle-like ball back and forth.

Don’t be fooled by the silly name.

Pickleball is a rapidly-growing sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It is played on a court a quarter the size of a tennis court, with oversized wooden paddles and a perforated polymer ball.

Splash Zone assistant facility director Chris Lewis brought the game to the recreation center two years ago as a way to get more use out of the basketball courts. He chose pickleball because it’s an inexpensive, easy sport for novices, and fun enough that kids and their grandparents can play together.

The game has especially gained popularity among people over the age of 50 because the low-impact sport is less strenuous on the joints since it’s played on a smaller court at a slower pace.

“I can’t run anymore because of my bad knees so I can’t get a lot of the shots, but I still have fun,” said player Ralph Thompson, showing us Monday how to play.

Pickleball can also be challenging, he said, requiring quick reactions as players trade rapid-fire shots at the net.

Here are the basics:

• There are usually four players – two to a team – playing over a net slightly lower than in tennis.

• The serve is underhanded and goes diagonally like in tennis, but the ball must bounce once on each side before players are allowed to hit.

• Inside “the kitchen,” a seven-foot zone on both sides of the net, players have to let the ball bounce once if they’re in that area.

• Teams only score when they’re serving, and each player gets a turn before the other side gets a shot.

There are a few more rules, but the main thing is that pickleball is a blast.

“It’s really fun, it’s a good exercise, and it’s a very social activity,” said 83-year-old Roy Ebihara, who began playing last fall. “We laugh at each other and we cheer for each other. It’s not competitive.”

OK, so what’s with the name?

That’s up for debate.

The idea was hatched in 1965 in the backyard of Joel Pritchard, a congressman for Washington state. Bored after a round of golf, Pritchard and a friend looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with table tennis paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They came up with rules and the sport was born.

Joan Pritchard, Joel’s wife, said she told the guys the combination of sports reminded her of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen are chosen from the leftovers of other boats.

Over the years, however, a story circulated that the game was named after the family’s dog, Pickles, who would chase after the ball. According to Pritchard, the dog came years after the game, but the ball-chasing-dog legend grew over the years, blurring the truth.

The United States of America Pickleball Association estimates there are 100,000 to 150,000 players in the country.

“I love knowing everyone on a first-name basis,” said 88-year-old Sue Brady, a retired Oberlin High School volleyball coach. “You don’t have to have a team. You just show up and play.”

Pickleball open gym is from 9-11 a.m. every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at Splash Zone.

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

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Sue Brady, 88, loves getting in her cardio exercise through a few rounds of pickleball.
https://www.theoberlinnewstribune.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/44/2017/08/web1_PB1.jpgSue Brady, 88, loves getting in her cardio exercise through a few rounds of pickleball.

David Kohn hits a green wiffle-like ball back toward his opponents.
https://www.theoberlinnewstribune.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/44/2017/08/web1_PB2.jpgDavid Kohn hits a green wiffle-like ball back toward his opponents.

By Laurie Hamame