On a cool fall morning, some 20 players gathered at the Fenwick Lions Club for a pickleball tournament. By 8 AM, the first round was already well underway. Players laughed and traded jokes as they used paddles to hit the ball back and forth at a brisk pace.
A few spectators sat on the sidelines, including a German Shepherd dog calmly napping amongst the dew. Another dog by the fence strained against its leash, trying to say hello to Jeanne Pender, one of the players.
“Cooper’s my cheerleader,” said Pender, “and he’s not cheering loud enough!”
In fact, for those new to the sport, it (1) does not involve any pickles, and (2) may actually have been named after a dog. According to Canada’s official pickleball website, www.pickleballcanada.org, pickleball was created by American Congressman Joel Pritchard in 1965. The game was improvised on an old badminton court, with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball, with the idea that the whole family (of any age) could play. Legend has it that the family dog Pickles would chase the ball and run away with it — hence the unique name.
The basic rules of pickleball were adapted from badminton, ping-pong, and tennis. No prior experience in these sports is required to learn or enjoy the game. It’s is played with rackets similar to ping-pong paddles, and the perforated plastic ball is batted back and forth by each team, who play to a score of 11. The winning team must win by two points. The court, at 20 x 44 feet, is smaller than a tennis court, and the net is 34 inches high compared to 36 inches in tennis.
The host of the day’s tournament, Jim Fraser, expressed his pleasure at the large turnout, and explained that pickleball was invented for older tennis players who wanted to stay active. He also emphasized that while pickleball was a good way for senior players to keep mobile, it was also a great sport for kids.
Fraser used to play tennis at the YMCA, and after seeing a group of people play pickleball, gave it a try.
“And I never looked back,” said Fraser. “The sport is spreading like wildfire.”
Due to the game’s popularity and the community that has been built over the summer, Fraser’s goal is to have a dedicated indoor area to host pickleball once the weather gets colder. He had played at Pelham’s community centre before, but because the court was shared with other sports, the conditions made it less than ideal. Eventually, Fraser hopes to offer after-school programs to introduce kids and teenagers to the sport.
Pickleball player Kathy Trussell said that the game was especially important for socialization amidst the pandemic lockdown, and that it provided a common denominator that brought people together.
“It’s a game that gets people outside,” said Trussell, “and keeps you active and healthy.”
Many of the players expressed worry about the fate of pickleball, especially with the coming winter and uncertainty of the safety of indoor spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One player, Marlene Campbell, regional senior pickleball champion, didn’t seem too worried.
“As long as the balls don’t crack,” said Campbell, “we’ll be playing.”
1st Place – Tracey Booth
2nd Place – Greg Tashjan
3rd Place – Dan Speck
4th Place – Dave Trussell
Note: No pickles or dogs were harmed in the writing of this story.