Pickleball picks up popularity on new courts in Hilliard

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
Pickleball players (from left) Tony Allen, 64, Sharon Laut, 77, Elaine Howett, 76, and Jeff Clark, 71, all Hilliard residents and members of the Phyllis A. Ernst Senior Center, give a paddle bump at the conclusion of a match Sept. 16 on the new courts in Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park in Hilliard.

Pickleball paddles lined up along the fence line of the new courts at Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park in Hilliard indicate the next players up in a game that is growing in popularity, especially among senior citizens.

The two outdoor courts, which were delayed in construction by the continuing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, opened in August, and members of Hilliard's Phyllis A. Ernst Senior Center don't often allow the courts to go unused.

About 20 members of the senior center were playing alternating matches for two hours the morning of Sept. 16.

They gather from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with weekend sessions occasionally in the mix.

Those who are not actively playing in doubles matches rotate out and spectate from the sidelines, offering words of encouragement and the occasional good-natured jab while catching up on each other's families.

"They say, 'Keep moving,' and this keeps me moving," said Hilliard resident Vince Ramirez, 58.

Ramirez, who has Parkinson's disease, said pickleball provides him the exercise he needs and comes somewhat naturally to him because he has played racquetball for the past 35 years.

"I don't care if I win or lose; (pickleball) is a fun game," he said.

According to usapickleball.org, pickleball was invented by a trio of fathers on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle.

Bill Bell, Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard – who would go on to serve as a lieutenant governor of Washington – are credited with its invention after their "kids were bored with their usual summertime activities," according to the website.

Lacking badminton equipment, the men suggested using pingpong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They set up a 60-inch net but soon lowered it to 36 inches after discovering how well the ball bounced.

The men crafted formal rules, and in 1972, a corporation was formed to protect the creation of the sport, according to the website.

The first known pickleball tournament was held in 1976 in Washington, and in 1984, the United States Amateur Pickleball Association, the USAPA, was organized to perpetuate the growth and advancement of the sport, according to the website.

This year, the USAPA rebranded as USA Pickleball.

The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong and may be played indoors or outdoors on a 20-by-44-foot court, which is identical to a doubles badminton court.

It may be played as singles or doubles and is played with a plastic ball with holes, such as a whiffle ball.

Sharon Laut, 77, of Hilliard took up the game six years ago while living in Salem, and she continued playing after moving to Hilliard to be near family.

A former aerobics instructor, Laut said, she craves "the physical action" of playing pickleball. Laut said she plays two to three days a week and enjoys the camaraderie as much as the exercise.

"It's a great group of people here," Laut said.

Plans for the outdoor courts began two years ago when city officials noticed pickleball was a hit, especially among senior citizens, said Ed Merritt, director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department.

The courts are open to the public and operate on a first-come, first-served basis, Merritt said.

"The pandemic slowed construction down, (but) I'm glad they are being used," he said. "It is vital in this COVID-19 environment to grow local outdoor-recreation opportunities."

The city's senior center has two indoor pickleball courts that can be set up on basketball courts, but they cannot be used because of the pandemic, Merritt said.

Plans for the outdoor pickleball courts were in motion before the arrival of the pandemic forced quarantine procedures in mid-March.

The cost of the new courts was $49,000, and a fence was also built for $10,000, according to David Ball, communications director for Hilliard.

The city plans to launch leagues next year and establish tournaments, Merritt said.

Players would need to provide their own equipment.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo

Pickleball paddles lined up along the fence line of the new courts at Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park in Hilliard indicate the next players up in a game that is growing in popularity, especially among senior citizens.