By Joanne R. Alloway

            When a former racquetball partner from Texas called and said she was playing pickleball twice a week, I laughed. What on earth is that, I asked? She couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it or tried it. She said it was the rage in Austin. Was she right? I had to find out. Pickleball is a fun exercise, a way to make friends and learn something (almost) new. It is a combination of tennis, badminton and pingpong played with a whiffle ball and a paddle on a badminton-size court. It starts with an underhand serve. It’s played in doubles to 11 points.

The sport originated in 1965 and in 1972 the U.S. Pickleball Association (USPA) was formed, as was a rulebook. In 1984 the USPA, with 15,000 members, became the governing body of the sport. It’s been popular with all age groups, but has been growing since the boomer population adopted it. Pickleball is well-suited to the boomer-and-beyond crowd. Using a smaller court, a lighter ball and paddle (wood or graphite), the sport avoids joint-jarring. The underhand serve helps keep shoulder joints painfree. This low-impact, but dynamite sport burns calories you’re unaware you’re using because you’re too busy having fun.

Places to play this sport in Annapolis include the Roger Pip Moyer Recreation Center (RPMRC) and Heritage Harbor’s Lodge. In an interview with Phyllis Emmett, coordinator of Pickleball for RPMRC, she said the current hours to play are:  Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. and Tuesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. in the auxiliary gym. It’s a drop-in program, so you don’t need to bring a partner. The rules are fairly straightforward. Phyllis explains them and welcomes newcomers to visit. Phyllis said the RPMRC has some paddles, which beginners may borrow until they have their own. They are lightweight – approximately 6 to 12 ounces – compared to those used for tennis and racquetball. Phyllis also mentioned that there are players of all ages and skill levels, from beginner to proficient. The age range varies, but the average age there is between 66 and 68 years old. She also said there are as many men as women playing, although the men tend to be more aggressive and often play among themselves. For a RPMRC fee schedule, call 410.263.7958, as there are options.

At Heritage Harbor, you must either be a resident or be a guest of one to play. Doug Cook, an 84 year-old player and manager of the group, told me they have 80 registered members, ranging in age from late 50s to mid- 80s. They have three courts set up outdoors and two indoor for year-round play. Their playing schedule is Monday through Friday, with some evening hours. Call Doug: 410.573.0707 for details.

Other pickleball locations within the Anne Arundel County area: Bowie Municipal Gymnasium, Bowie Community Center, South Bowie Community Center, North Laurel Community Center, Benfield Sports Center in Millersville, Severna Park Community Center and Edgewater Senior Center.  Check www.usapa.org/places-to-play-pickleball/  for details and other locations across the state and country.

Getting started is easy: show up dressed to play at the time listed for your location, pay the small fee and a coordinator will go over the rules and pair you with someone. You should catch on quickly. Some players enjoy the game so much that they play two or three times per week. Others combine pickleball with their existing walking, yoga or gym programs. Players who really get into this sport eventually go to tournaments, a competitive arena for Pickleballer’s at the top of their game.

Jolyn Kuhn, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., an avid outdoor pickleball player, says, “It’s a great noncontact sport. I play my first game of the day with my husband, Richard. After that, he plays with the guys and I play with the women. We play for three hours sometimes. When we travel, we try to find pickleball courts; we’ve played in Annapolis.” Jolyn has medaled in tournaments, after playing for only three years. “The more you play, the better you get!” she insists. “This is a sport for all ages. We have 90-year-olds playing! And it’s very social, what could be better?”

Joanne is an author and freelance writer and can be contacted at [email protected]




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