July 17, 2013

Young and old in Portland area catch pickleball fever

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WESTBROOK – Aaron Dion laughed when he first heard the name.

click image to enlarge

Yvonne Kingsley, 64, of West Baldwin, returns a volley while playing pickleball at Sunset Ridge Golf Course in Westbrook on Friday, July 5, 2013. Pickleball is a game similar to tennis, played with oversized ping pong paddles and a plastic ball like a whiffleball on a small tennis court with a 34-inch net.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Additional Photos Below

SWEET SPORT, SOUR NAME

When, where to find a weekly pickleball game:

Blackstrap Road, West Cumberland: Thursday, 9 to 11 a.m.

Shaw Gym, Gorham: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to noon.

Consolidated School, Kennebunkport: Tuesday and Wednesday, 6 to 8 p.m.

Carpentier Park, Sanford: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 5 p.m. to dusk

Sunset Ridge, Westbrook: Weekdays except Thursdays, 9 to 11 a.m.; Monday, Tuesday, Friday, 6 to 8 p.m.

Alfond Youth Center, Waterville: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 9 to 10:30 a.m.

Fryeburg Recreation Fields: Monday, Thursday, 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.

Old Orchard Beach Rec Center: Thursday, 5 to 7 p.m.

 

Pickleball.

"It's probably the world's worst name," said Dion, 42, of Portland, "but it's one of the most fun games you could ask for. I got addicted to it last year."

More about the name and its curious etymology later.

As a sport, pickleball combines elements of tennis (with a shorter, smaller net), Ping-Pong (the wooden or composite paddles are larger, but the ball is plastic and gives that familiar pop when struck) and badminton (serving and scoring are similar, as is the court size).

Increasingly popular among retirees in Arizona and Florida, the sport is booming in the Portland area. A year ago, there were only a couple of places to play in the area, said Rocky Clark, 58, of Portland. Now, there are at least two dozen.

Community centers in Portland, South Portland, Gorham, Damariscotta, Belfast, Saco, Westbrook and Waterville have indoor venues. Outdoor courts are available in Wells, South Berwick, Sanford, Old Orchard Beach, Fryeburg and Cumberland.

"The growth has been tremendous," said Clark, who discovered pickleball at a retirement community in Florida that has 108 courts.

The sport isn't just for retirees. It is becoming part of the physical education curriculum in some school systems. Pickleball is the rare sport that can be played competitively from elementary school to great-grandparenthood.

EASY TO LEARN, GOOD WORKOUT

Dion and his wife, Kathy, spent two recent Friday nights playing pickleball, first inside the former Plummer School gymnasium in Falmouth, and then outdoors at Sunset Ridge in Westbrook.

"We used to golf and ski together," said Kathy Dion, 39, "and we were looking for something a little less expensive that we could do together."

The USA Pickleball Association (usapa.org) maintains a link on its home page listing Places to Play all across North America. Maine's page has 24 sites along with schedules, contact numbers and any fees (usually no more than $2 per session).

Part of pickleball's appeal is its learning curve. Nearly anyone with decent hand-eye coordination can pick up a paddle and be proficient.

"This is an easy racquet sport to pick up," said Tim Ferris, 57, of Cumberland, a squash player who equates pickleball's popularity to the 1970s racquetball boom.

But mastering the sport isn't so easy. The lower net (34 inches at the center) and smaller court (20 feet wide, 44 feet baseline to baseline) tend to favor players who are good at getting low, rather than those tall serve-and-volley specialists who can dominate in tennis.

"I started playing and I got hooked immediately," said Bob Brown, the renowned college and high school basketball coach who is now retired, 75 and living in Scarborough. "The thing that amazed me was the workout you get. You don't realize it until all of a sudden your jersey's all sweaty."

Brown recently bought a net and four paddles and chalked lines in his driveway to play with his grandchildren. He played in San Antonio while visiting his son, Brett, an assistant coach with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. He played in three places in Florida, often accompanied by coffee and brownies.

"It was a real social gathering for a lot of people," Brown said. "I've met a whole group of new people that I now call friends that I had never socialized with before."

RULES OF THE GAME

Pickleball rules are fairly straightforward. You score only when serving. You don't get a second chance at a serve, unless the ball tips the net and lands in the opposing serving box. And all serves are underhand.

The return of serve must bounce. The third and any subsequent shots can be volleyed, but not from within a 7-foot zone on either side of the net (called the kitchen; as in, stay out of it) but you can enter the no-volley zone to return a shot that lands within it.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Teams of doubles compete during a pickleball match at Sunset Ridge Golf Course in Westbrook on Friday, July 5, 2013. Pickleball is a game similar to tennis, played with oversized ping pong paddles and a plastic ball like a whiffleball on a small tennis court with a 34-inch net.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

A pickleball player gets ready to serve while playing at Sunset Ridge Golf Course in Westbrook on Friday, July 5, 2013. Pickleball is a game similar to tennis, played with oversized ping pong paddles and a plastic ball like a whiffleball on a small tennis court with a 34-inch net.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Dan Heckathorn, 50 of Gorham, returns a volley while playing pickleball at Sunset Ridge Golf Course in Westbrook on Friday, July 5, 2013. Pickleball is a game similar to tennis, played with oversized ping pong paddles and a plastic ball like a whiffleball on a small tennis court with a 34-inch net.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer



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