Pickleball drawing a crowd

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comJanuary 18, 2013 

— It sounds like pingpong on an amplifier and before long people will know the sport on a first name basis, its biggest fans say.

“Within two years, you won’t believe how many people are playing pickleball,” said game ambassador Jane Harvey.

“It will happen.”

Pickleball is a paddle-and-ball game played on what looks like small tennis courts. The ball is similar to a whiffle ball, and the rules similar to tennis or Ping-Pong. It’s mostly an outdoor game, but it’s being played inside this month in the Recreation Complex at the Anne Springs Close Greenway.

Harvey and Frank Kinder, both Sun City residents in Indian Land, are ambassadors through the USA Pickleball Association. They’re hosting clinics at the Fort Mill gym 1-3 p.m. each Wednesday in January, and open play 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

They’ve also taught the game at Indian Land Middle School, and worked with counties and homebuilders to find opportunities for new pickleball courts or, as is increasingly more common, repurposed tennis courts converted for the game.

“It’s addictive,” said Harvey’s husband, Fred. “You play, and you’re hooked.”

Sun City installed two courts in early 2009 and interest was so high, four more were built. Now there are leagues and tournaments, along with daily social play. Although Fred was never interested in competitive sports, he is one of many regulars.

There is a place in Rock Hill offering open play, and some interest from elected officials at various levels in providing space to play, Kinder said. But the local epicenter for pickleball is Sun City, home to the only two local ambassadors and a club with more than 500 members, more than 100 playing on a regular basis.

Martha Burgess is president of that club. The quick nature and smaller spacing of pickleball is what appeals to many, she said, compared to tennis which she also plays. While a set of tennis may last half an hour, a pickleball set might take 10 or 15 minutes. The game is particularly popular among seniors, though anyone can play.

“I think of it being as energetic as tennis, but in a different way,” Burgess said.

Only about a dozen people signed up for the first clinic in Fort Mill last Wednesday, though almost 40 people showed up to try out the game. Already the pickleballers are recommending that people new to the game try out the open play sessions, where experienced players will be on hand to give an idea of how the game is played.

For more information on the sport, visit usapa.org. For more on the program at the Recreation Complex, call 547-4575 or go to leroysprings.com.

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