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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

In region, pickleball is one sweet sport

BY ALIYYA SWABY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Judy Bastian, front, of Sylvania pairs with Paige Armstrong of Rossford for a game of Pickleball at the Glenwood Courts on Glenwood Road. The game is played with hard, solid-faced paddles and perforated plastic balls. Judy Bastian, front, of Sylvania pairs with Paige Armstrong of Rossford for a game of Pickleball at the Glenwood Courts on Glenwood Road. The game is played with hard, solid-faced paddles and perforated plastic balls.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Pickleball, a fast-growing racquet sport in the United States, has nothing to do with the briny preserved vegetable.

It was named for Pickles, a cocker spaniel and the family pet of pickleball's inventor, according to the U.S.A. Pickleball Association's Web site, usapa.org.

Despite the odd name, the local pickleball players who frequent 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 southeast Michigan to play outdoors in Rossford, Connie Mierzejewski said.

She played indoors at Tam-O-Shanter in Sylvania, but when it closed for repairs, she sought 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 the Tam-O-Shanter renovations are over, she plans to return indoors.

As more people find out about the Rossford gatherings, advertised solely on the U.S.A. Pickleball Association's Web site, the number of players 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, but a few are in their 40s.

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

The game is played with hard, solid-faced paddles and perforated plastic balls on a court 20 feet by 44 feet, with a net hung at a height of 36 inches. 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's first national championship last year had 400 competitors, Mr. Johnson said. This year's championship will be in November in Buckeye, Ariz.

Players have a range of skill levels. Al and Barb Hager live in Pemberville, Ohio, but spend winters in Arizona, where they picked up pickleball.

Mr. Hager, 58, plays in tournaments nationwide. Although the Rossford gatherings are significantly less intense, he said it is good to have a place to play when they are not in Arizona.

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

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

Pickleball is not just for older people. Jo Daniels of Maumee said she taught it in elementary physical education classes before she retired from teaching.

Ms. Daniels, 59, said children can learn the sport more easily than tennis because the racquet has a shorter handle and the ball doesn't go as far as a tennis ball. She heard about the Rossford gatherings from friends and 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. She decided to play pickleball. "I like it to supplement my tennis," she said.

Last week she brought friend Robin Hunt of Perrysburg, who played the game for the first time. Ms. Hunt, 54, a tennis player, was unsure about the game, saying she was forced to go because "Judy [Bastian] was raving about how fun it is."

But she returned to the sidelines with a smile and sweat rolling down her face.

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



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