PIEDMONT — Six days a week, the wop-wop of paddles hitting Wiffle balls can be heard around Piedmont, as players young and old play pickleball — the sport that’s taken cities by storm and continues to grow.
Groups turn out to play the lively game — a mixture of badminton, ping pong and tennis — in San Francisco, Albany, Pleasanton, Redwood City, Santa Clara, Montclair and elsewhere. Albany alone has 817 players. Piedmont has a Google group of 315 members, said avid player Rick Schiller.
“I got involved three years ago. (I had) no idea what it was before. It’s positive on different levels, socially for myself and fellow players,” Schiller said. “The advantage over tennis is you get more workout with pickleball in a smaller space than with tennis. Four pickleball courts fit in the space of a full-sized tennis court.”
Len Ellis, 84, who plays at least three times a week, said pickleball pulled him out of a retirement funk.
“A friend told my wife to tell me to find a pickleball court. (The retired friend) said the game saved her life. Last Saturday I played in a local Piedmont tournament playing eight games. I made it and had a wonderful time. The beauty of pickleball is though it’s competitive, it’s always fun. That makes the camaraderie among us who play, regardless of age, a real joy,” Ellis said.
The game is played on a 20-foot wide, 44-foot long court. A typical game lasts 10 or 15 minutes. If the serving team can score a point, they get to keep serving. If they don’t, the opposing team gets to serve. The game ends when 11 points are scored.
People can play Tuesdays and Thursdays at Linda Beach field, Wednesdays and Fridays at Hampton Park and Saturdays and Sundays at six Piedmont Middle School courts. Schiller noted that cooperation was required between the city and school district to allow play on the school campus in a city with limited recreation space. When pickleball was first proposed in Piedmont about three years ago, it started as a pilot program to gauge support.
“Piedmont in its careful way did a survey, with a trial period at Hampton and Linda Beach. Piedmont did it right,” Schiller said.
It was soon apparent the sport was a hit, especially for older folks who wanted fun and exercise, which the sport provides. All age groups enjoy the game, though, Schiller says.
“I started playing about two years ago. I like it because it is social and inviting by nature, keeps my eye/hand reflexes sharp, and lets me get a low-impact workout,” says player Jim MacLean.
Lisa Fuller says she loves the “diverse community of people who play — a lovely community of people who are fun and inviting, even though we all played with masks.”
Pickleball play continued through much of 2020, with groups following strict COVID-19 protocols, which are still in place.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, there were 4.2 million players in the United States last year, with nearly 30% of core players younger than 35. The sport has been around since the mid-1960s when a group of fathers in Washington state invented a game using a Wiffle ball, ping pong paddles and a badminton net to engage their bored kids. The game languished in the Pacific Northwest, then made its way to the Sunbelt. It took off about five years ago, says Stu Upson, the CEO of USA Pickleball.
Quoted in a recent Boston Globe article, Upson said “If you’re reasonably coordinated, you can be playing a competitive game after an hour of instruction. Its small footprint means you can set up a net and play just about anywhere — from driveways to school yards. The boom helped during the pandemic, when people were looking for safe ways to get outside with friends.”
A few noise complaints surfaced when pickleball play started at Linda Beach field, but some adjustments there to the courts’ orientation helped mitigate the problem. City officials say they’re always open to discussing residents’ issues, if there are any.
“I want to reiterate the multiple positive benefits of pickleball, particularly as we age, which makes it appropriate for Piedmont,” Schiller said. “The city deserves credit for paying for the repaving of the middle school badminton courts. The city has wisely avoided a reservation system, which has detracted from pickleball elsewhere.”
Just show up with your paddle and engage in a fun, lively game, players say.
Linda Davis is a longtime Piedmont correspondent. Contact her with news tips or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Author: Linda Davis