Pickleball's popularity growing locally

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Sep. 6, 2012
Brenda Stoebel looks on as her husband and pickleball partner Dick makes a play at the Riverfront Community Center on Sept 4.
Brenda Stoebel looks on as her husband and pickleball partner Dick makes a play at the Riverfront Community Center on Sept 4.

Pickleball is perhaps best explained as a less-exerting version of tennis. Played on a small, badminton-sized court with a plastic whiffle-ball, the game is the fastest-growing court game in the country, and has “hot-spots” in places like Florida, Canada and upstate New York. Easy to learn, but tough to master, the sport has appeal to people of all ages, while growing largest among the elder set.

Pickleball is catching on locally in towns including Glastonbury, in part due to the efforts of Dick and Brenda Stoebel – two Manchester residents who are promoting the sport, and are regulars to the open sessions at the Riverfront Community Center on Tuesdays and Saturdays. As official ambassadors of the sport, they also play in South Windsor and are starting a group in Manchester, which is having an open house event for anyone interested in learning about the sport on Sept. 13, at the Manchester Senior Center.

“We winter in Florida, and the game is huge down there,” Dick said, adding that the game originated in the Northwest – Washington to be precise – in the 1960s. “It migrated up into Canada, and it's big in Arizona.”

How the sport (which does not employ pickles in any fashion) got its name is the subject of a few different theories, the most common of which is that the game's originators owned a dog named Pickles, who would retrieve the ball for them when it went out of play. However, another version of the story is that one of the game's originators thought it reminded her of the "pickle boat” in rowing, which was the boat crewed by the leftover oarsmen of the other teams.

The Stoebels said word-of-mouth is largely responsible for the sport's growth, and they have met many friends through pickleball.

“It's great exercise, but unlike tennis, you don't have to do a lot of running around,” Brenda said.

“You don't get the tennis elbow,” Dick said. “It doesn't impact you the same. It's good exercise and it's a social thing. You do this for a good two or three hours and it's a good workout.”

Pickleball is typically played with doubles or mixed-doubles, but single- and multiple-player games are also possible. The score is called out by the server and the three-digits indicate the serving team's score, receiving team's score, and which server is serving, in that order.

After the serve and return – both of which must bounce on the opponent's side of the net – the best strategy is to move up to the no-volley lines (the zone between which is known as the “kitchen”) and “pound away.”

Many of the regular players say they tried it once and became addicted to it. “It's an infectious game,” Dick said. “Once you start, you get a little more serious and play a little harder.”

The sport has its own website, www.usapa.org, which provides rules, demonstration videos, articles, and links to local pickleball clubs.

For more information about the Glastonbury pickleball group, visit www.glasct.org or e-mail stoebelbg@aol.com.

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