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Pickleball catching on at UA Senior Center

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A fledgling group of enthusiastic senior citizens is among the growing legion of Pickleball players and proponents.

For the past six weeks, Jane Sindel, recreation supervisor at the Upper Arlington Senior Center, has sought to both provide a venue for area Pickleball players and introduce the game to others.

Frequently played on a badminton court with a net lowered to 34 inches, Sindel's group of close to 15 loyalists has gathered to play in teams of two each Monday this summer on the tennis courts at Fancyburg Park.

By popular demand, the UA Senior Center currently is registering players for its six-week fall Pickleball program, which will begin Sept. 9.

Sign-up and additional details are available by going to the Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation Department's senior center link online at uaoh.net, by calling the senior center at 614-583-5320, or by registering at the senior center, 1945 Ridgeview Road.

"It's a really cool game and it's taken off like wildfire," Sindel said. "It's really stimulated a lot of interest here.

"I call it exercise with a purpose, because you're trying to win a game."

According to the USA Pickleball Association, the game is named after a co-inventor's dog, Pickles, a cocker spaniel with a penchant for chasing stray balls from the playing courts and hiding them in nearby bushes.

In addition to sharing some traits of badminton and tennis, Pickleball is played with wood or composite paddles and perforated, plastic balls similar to Wiffle balls.

"I'm playing about three times a week and like it because of the quick movements and the people you meet," said Steve Ballmann of North Columbus. "I've met a lot of nice people."

Sindel said there are a number of avid Pickleballers in Westerville, and she started the local program due to the game's popularity there.

She also received requests for a local league from UA Senior Center members who had been exposed to it at a central Florida retirement community called The Villages, which boasts approximately 120 Pickleball courts for players of all levels.

One such member is Nelson French, who last Monday was a week away from his 88th birthday.

French, a former Upper Arlington High School tennis player who still plays in indoor and outdoor tennis leagues, said he began playing Pickleball about seven years ago after an introduction to the game at The Villages.

"It's a game older people can play because there's not as much running as in sports like tennis," he said. "It's more of an agility game."

Both men and women turned out for the senior center's summer program. While French said Pickleball games can become quite competitive, there were many more laughs and words of encouragements than exultant shouts at a recent session.

"I'm just a beginner," said Linda Crawford, who lives near Clintonville. "I'm going to learn this game. I'm bound and determined.

"I want it to become my sport. I like it and want to become proficient at it. It's fun and it's a very social game."

There is no residency restriction for participating in the UA Senior Center's fall Pickleball program and, although it's available to anyone 50 and older, Sindel said she's likely to make exceptions for younger players.

The cost is $24, but discounts are available for some Upper Arlington residents and senior center members. The senior center also provides the necessary paddles and other equipment.

Depending on the program's growth, Sindel said she might seek opportunities for Upper Arlington-area Pickleballers to play those from Westerville or other communities.

Current players also are pushing for dedicated Pickleball courts in the community, which Sindel said is a reflection of how much people enjoy the game.

"We've got former tennis players who do very well, and we've got beginners and they catch on," she said. "We're trying to encourage recreation and activity.

"The people who stay the healthiest are the people who stay active, who aren't sitting in front of the TV all day."

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