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Petersburg court tickles local pickleball players

Couple pushing fast-growing sport to others

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Ginger Goodin plays pickleball on a redesigned tennis court in Petersburg. The game, similar to tennis, is popular in Florida and gaining fans across the local region.

The Blade/Lori King
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PETERSBURG -- Anyone for pickleball?

That's the message a Petersburg couple is getting out.

Ginger and Jerry Goodin developed a love of the fast-growing racquet sport with the funny name while wintering in Sarasota, Fla.

Now the retired couple want to play it in their hometown. They even prevailed upon Petersburg officials to modify the city's single tennis court at Saline and Walnut streets so the game could be played there.

Pickleball, for the uninitiated, uses a solid-face racquet and a perforated plastic ball much like a Wiffle ball. Games go to 11 points and are played by either singles or doubles. Players return the ball after letting it bounce once. The game has been described as "Ping Pong on time delay."

"The game is huge in Florida, but not so well known up here," Mrs. Goodin said. "But it's great exercise and we're looking for people to play with us."

Retrofitting the tennis court was simple and inexpensive.

Lines were painted outlining the smaller pickleball court, which is 20 feet by 44 feet, and a couple of eye bolts were sunk into the court's surface beneath the net so a line with a hook at either end could be used to lower the net to the regulation pickleball height of 36 inches.

"It didn't cost much at all," Petersburg Council Member Joanne Tollison said,

But the change was just what the Goodins were looking for, although they acknowledge that playing pickleball in Petersburg is different from playing it in Florida.

"In Florida, we play under a shelter, which is much nicer because you're not in the sun," Mrs. Goodin explained.

Mr. Goodin said the courts they use in Florida seem to have a smoother surface than the Petersburg court, so the ball behaves differently.

"The ball goes by faster [in Florida]. It jumps more off the surface," he said.

Pickleball is the fastest growing game in the country, according to Tom Wheeler, whose Utah company, Pickleball Now, makes customized pickleball racquets and other accessories.

Mr. Wheeler said Mrs. Goodin, who is 66, and Mr. Goodin, 68, are fairly typical of the game's aficionados.

The game was invented in 1965, he said, "but it didn't really take hold until a lot of Baby Boomers started to retire. The have bum knees or shoulders and can't play tennis."

Mr. Wheeler said pickleball is easier on the body than tennis because the smaller court makes for less moving around. Moreover, "it's unlike tennis, which is more of a baseline game. Pickleball is more of a net game. The idea is, you get up to the net and start these volleys. You hit it more times than you do on a tennis court," he said. "You're not doing as much running around, although it is very aerobic, but you are not covering as much territory."

Pickleball's popularity has spread rapidly in retirement states such as Florida, and is spreading north to states such as Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, he continued. He said it's also spreading to schools, which inexpensively can adapt their gyms to the game much as Petersburg did its tennis court.

The game was invented by the late Joel Pritchard, who represented Washington state in Congress and served as its lieutenant governor. Mr. Pritchard developed the game after he and friends were challenged by their children to come up with an activity to help dispel boredom at the family compound on Bainbridge Island.

Mr. Pritchard reportedly named the game after the family dog, Pickle, who liked to chase the ball.

Mr. and Mrs. Goodin have high hopes they can get a group of players together in Petersburg. They've already contacted a friend in Sylvania who plays at Tam-O-Shanter.

They want to sharpen their game for their return to Florida.

"Every year we get a little better," Mr. Goodin said.

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