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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Racquet sport of Pickleball gaining popularity in area

BY ALIYYA SWABY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Connie Mierzejewski of Rossford plays at the outdoors Glenwood Courts in Rossford. The game is played with hard, solid-faced paddles and perforated plastic balls. Connie Mierzejewski of Rossford plays at the outdoors Glenwood Courts in Rossford. The game is played with hard, solid-faced paddles and perforated plastic balls.
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Pickleball, a fast-growing racquet sport in the United States, has nothing to do with the briny vegetable.

In fact, the sport was named after a cocker spaniel, Pickles, the family pet of pickleball's inventor, according to the U.S.A. Pickleball Association's Web site usapa.org.

Despite the sport's odd name, the local pickleball players who go regularly to Glenwood Courts, 313 Glenwood Rd., in Rossford, can attest to its challenging nature, cardiovascular benefits, and addictive qualities.

The players come from all over northwest Ohio and even from Michigan to play outdoors in Rossford, Connie Mierzejewski said.

She used to play indoors at the Tam-O-Shanter in Sylvania, but when it closed for repairs for up to six weeks, she looked for new venues.

The Rossford resident asked the city for permission to use the two outdoor courts on Glenwood and recruited people to play there starting at the end of June. When Tam-O-Shanter is renovated, she plans to go back indoors, especially in late fall and winter.

Jeff Foster aims the ball over the net. Pickleball games go to 11 points. Jeff Foster aims the ball over the net. Pickleball games go to 11 points.
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As more people find out about the Rossford gatherings, solely advertised on the U.S.A. Pickleball Association's Web site, the number of players that attend grows, she said.

Now as many as 16 people gather there up to four days a week - twice as many as can play on the courts at one time.

They play Mondays and Tuesdays from 5 p.m. until dark, and Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Most players are retired and over the age of 50, though there are a few in their forties.

The sport, which was invented on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965, is now played by an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people in the United States, according to David Johnson of the USAPA.

The game is played with hard, solid-faced paddles and perforated plastic balls on a court measuring 20 feet by 44 feet, with a net hung at a height of 36 inches.

Judy Bastian, front, and Paige Armstrong are among a growing group gathering in Rossford to play Pickleball. Judy Bastian, front, and Paige Armstrong are among a growing group gathering in Rossford to play Pickleball.
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Players hit the ball back and forth after letting it bounce once on each side. Games go to 11 points and are played by either singles or doubles.

The USAPA held its first national championship last year with 400 people competing, Mr. Johnson said.

This year's championship tournament will be in November in Buckeye, Ariz.

Players come with a range of skill levels.

Retirees Al and Barb Hager live in Pemberville, but winter in Arizona, where they picked up pickleball.

Mr. Hager, 58, now plays in tournaments around the country.

Though the gatherings in Rossford are significantly less intense than what he is used to, it is good to have somewhere to play when they are not in Arizona.

"He plays for blood. I play for laughs," Mrs. Hager, 54, said jokingly.

She said the sport is becoming popular in retirement villages across the country because it is a good workout but easier on the body than tennis.

Pickleball is not only for older people.

Jo Daniels of Maumee said she used to teach the sport in elementary-school physical-education classes before she retired.

Ms. Daniels, 59, said the sport is easier for children to learn because the racquet has a shorter handle and the ball doesn't go as far as a tennis ball would.

She heard about the Rossford gatherings from a couple of friends, and only recently played for the first time.

"I'm not as good as I thought I was," she laughed. "It's going to take me a while."

Judy Bastian, 63, of Sylvania, has been playing tennis competitively for 30 years but decided to play pickleball as a more recreational sport.

"I like it to supplement my tennis," she said.

She took her friend Robin Hunt of Perrysburg to a session last week to play the game for the first time.

Before going onto the court, Ms. Hunt, 54, a tennis player, was unsure about pickleball's merits.

She said she was forced to go because "Judy [Bastian] was raving about how fun it is."

But after heading off to play a round, Ms. Hunt returned to the sidelines a half hour later with a smile and with sweat dripping down her face.

"It was good enough to come back," she said.



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