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Pickleball: Making a racket

posted Feb 21, 2014, 6:21 AM by Northern Illinois Pickleball   [ updated Feb 21, 2014, 6:22 AM ]
If life gives you a lemon, play Pickleball. The sport has been around since the 1960s, but it seems to be catching on now as a game where grandparents can play their grandkids. Active seniors who have injuries from a lifetime of sports enjoy that the court is smaller than in tennis, the paddle is bigger than pingpong and the modified Wiffle ball is slower than in either of those sports.And no pickles are hurt in the process. The name is believed to be a reference to a dog owned by the game's creator. A slower game also makes for a lot of banter. All of it good-natured. "No trash talking allowed," says Hal Barnhart, a Champaign retiree. Not much lunging after balls. No shame in bobbling. "We laugh at the mistakes ... Right on cue!" Richard Mahan says as a plastic ball bonks off the court. Champaign's Mahan is a longtime Pickleball enthusiast who was once a serious tennis player. "I couldn't keep pace with the 30-year-olds any more," he says. The Pickleball king researched the game a few years ago and found that, while Chicago, Indianapolis and Springfield have regular events, the closest competition to Champaign was Monticello. He regularly traveled to the capital of Piatt County for Pickleball games before the Champaign Park District initiated an outdoor court at Hessel Park and indoor courts at the Douglass Community Center, 512 E. Grove St., C. Everyone is welcome, Mahan says, and it won't cost you much. Each day is $1. There have been seven to 11 players at each Monday, Wednesday and Friday event since it started in January. The indoor "season" ends May 14. Free lessons are provided, as well as loaner paddles and balls. Athletic shoes are required. Joe DeLuce, the executive director of the Champaign Park District, said Pickleball is likely to grow in the future, especially as boomers age. The new Leonhard Recreation Center, which opens next month, might have a Pickleball court or two (or more), he said. "We're really excited about it because the boomers really enjoy it," DeLuce said. Sport has taken a toll on these lifelong athletes. A small list of artificial joints and other repairs among the Pickleball enthusiasts: Don Block, two knee replacements; Mahan, two bad ankles, torn Achilles' tendon; and Barnhart, Achilles just hanging in there. Block said the rules make the game a little easier on the hips, knees and shoulders. "There's not as much running because there's a smaller court than tennis, a low net, slower speed ball — there's less stress on everything," he said.  Troy Preston, a retired physical education teacher from Homer, has played the game since close to its inception. "Because it's usually doubles play, you get help from three other people," he said. Mahan said a big difference from other court sports is the speed of the Pickleball, which is about one-third of the average speed of a tennis ball. The court is about one-third of the total area of a tennis court. Barnhart said there is a good energy from all the banter. "You get a little exercise, some laughs — it's all good for you," he said.  As much fun as the game may be, there are still plenty of strategies and angles, Mahan says. "It takes 15 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master," he says.

Newspaper: The News Gazette - Serving East Central Illinois