Will pickleball 'snowball quickly'?

Cary Ashby • Jun 23, 2017 at 12:30 PM

Louise Hammersmith first learned about pickleball three years ago when she was on vacation in Florida.

The day after learning about the sport from an instructor, the Norwalk woman, her husband, his sister and husband all bought pickleball paddles.

In general, pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. A game is played as singles or doubles on a smaller, tennis-like court to 11 points. Players can only score points when they serving and must win by two points. 

“It’s not as strenuous as tennis,” said Hammersmith, who enjoys playing with a group regularly at the Perkins Family Gymnasium. “It’s a fun way to meet people. You burn up some calories.”

Hammersmith expressed her interest to Joe Lindenberger, superintendent of the Norwalk parks and recreation department. Ernsthausen Community Center then arranged to host free clinics, which averaged 10 to 12 people.

“We did not create a club. We created clinics with the regional (pickleball) ambassador to try it out,” said recreation director Niki Cross, who arranged for local residents to play at the Perkins Family Gymnasium on Monroe Street.

Painter’s tape marks off the pickleball court in the gym.

“We can fit two courts in there,” Cross said. “The whole court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide.”

The Ernsthausen recreation director hadn’t heard of pickleball before local residents started expressing interest.

“I did quite a bit of research to learn the rules,” she said.

Pickleball has been around since 1965. It was invented on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride away from Seattle, by three fathers — Joel Pritchard, William Bell and Barney McCallum, who created it to better engage their children who reportedly were bored and restless.

Bill Bennett, of North Fairfield, became interested in playing once he read about the pickleball clinics in the Reflector.

“But I knew (about) it because it’s taught at schools,” he said, referring to Main Street Intermediate and Norwalk Middle schools.

One of the things Bennett enjoys about pickleball is it’s less stressful on his knees than tennis.

“It’s a good, quick racket sport,” he said.

While pickleball is a game for the entire family, Cross sees most of the local players in the age range of 45 to 80 years old.

“It’s more of a senior-style sport,” the recreation director said. “There is a not a lot of extra movement as you would see in tennis. If you play doubles, you don’t have to move much at all.”

Area pickleball is offered by Erie MetroParks and in Fremont.

Lindenberger sees Norwalk being on the cutting edge by offering the new sport and expects it to gain momentum.

“This thing will snowball quickly,” he said. 

“This definitely is something that is on the rise,” Cross agreed.

If pickleball only becomes a fad that fades away, Lindenberger said it’s easy to convert the same playing space back into tennis courts.

There will be two pickleball courts at the Jaycee Bicentennial Park, the site of Norwalk’s massive lift-station project on Pleasant Street. 

“It would be nice to have pickleball courts in different parks,” Lindenberger said.

“I think we will look into adding additional pickleball courts in the area as it grows, depending if funding and grants are available.”

For more information about pickleball, to the USAPA Pickleball website, www.usapa.org. If you are interested in the local pickleball program, call Niki Cross at 419-663-6775 ext. 1026.

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