By Art Petrosemolo
Pickleball – The game with the funny name is played in all 50 states by nearly a half-million adults, teens and kids.
It’s a paddle game that has many of the characteristics of traditional tennis and is usually played on a tennis court with separate markings turning the court into the size of a doubles badminton surface.
A great form of exercise for adults, the game is finding its way into camp programs and physical education classes for youngsters as well as part of active 50-plus communities across the country. Pickleball has a growing following in Monmouth County.
Developed by three dads in Washington State as an activity for their children in 1965, the game quickly became popular with retirees in Florida, the Carolinas and the Southwest. It has gained in popularity in the Northeast as snowbirds return home for the summer and want to continue to play for exercise and the social aspects of the game.
For youngsters who may be introduced to the game at a camp or in physical education class, it teaches them many of the skills necessary if they transition to the faster game of tennis played on a larger court with a heavier ball.
In Monmouth County, the Pied Piper of the game is Todd Edwards of Colts Neck who winters in Naples, Florida, and has become a disciple of the sport. After an active season of pickleball in the sunshine state, Edwards found a group of friends and fellow snowbirds that were looking for a place to play. Edwards approached the Monmouth County Parks System about a court and learned that one of the four newly relined tennis courts at Thompson Park in Lincroft had 20×44-foot pickleball lines.
It was music to the pickleball group’s ears and it allowed many of the nearly two-dozen players to meet several days each week for round-robin play. Although the USA Pickleball Association runs a number of indoor and outdoor tournaments for different age groups, the Monmouth County pickleballers, play for exercise and a chance to get together with friends.
The group plays doubles with the winning pair, many times a man and a woman, staying on the court with new partners for the next 11-point game. “We even play eight-point games,” Edwards says, “to allow more people to play.” The group is ready for additional space to accommodate the growing number of players who want to enjoy the game.
In the south finding a court for pickleball isn’t a problem as many parks and communities maintain facilities for play. In Ocala, Florida, the Villages retirement community –called the mecca for the sport – has a 100 pickleball courts that are busy with seasoned players as well as those who are new to the game or who have transitioned from tennis because of age or injury. All enjoy the competition of a fast-paced court game played with a polymer ball with holes that travels about one-third speed of a tennis ball but plenty fast, players agree, for a good workout.
The pickleball serve is underhanded and points are only scored by the serving side and when an opponent fails to returns the ball. A non-volley 7-foot strip on either side of the net prevents serve and volley play of the power tennis game.
Locally, besides the Thompson Park court, only one additional pickleball facility recently built in the new Toll Brothers Active 55 retirement community in Tinton Falls is believed to exist.
“We’d like to assist beginner adults who are anxious to try the game, Edwards says, “and have additional space for our growing number of players who want to enjoy the game but can’t do so without help from communities who might help us by turning tennis or basketball courts into dual purpose surfaces with pickleball lines.”
A game first played by children with table tennis paddles, a wiffle ball and a lowered badminton net, pickleball has caught on with players of all ages on courts from backyards and driveways to relined tennis and badminton courts.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Edwards says, “and we attract new players every week.”
Monmouth County Parks is offering a no experience necessary pickleball session Sept.4–Oct.30 at the Fort Monmouth Recreation Center. For information on playing with the Edwards’ Pickleball group, contact him at ToddEMBC@gmail.com.
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