By Marty Farmer
Tennis, badminton and ping-pong are generally recognized as worthwhile and fun sports. How about a sport that contains elements of all three?
It was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum. They created the sport because their kids were bored with typical summer activities.
Fifty years later, pickleball surfaced in Oak Park when a small group of people (many from Unity Temple) started playing on a regular basis.
Since first contact of a pickleball paddle to the whiffle-esque paddle ball in town a few years ago, the group has grown to approximately 15 players who meet weekly on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Taylor Park between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m.
The Oak Park pickleballers also play indoors at the United Lutheran gym during winter. They've had discussions with the Tennis and Fitness Centre and Park District of Oak Park about new location sites to host their indoor season.
"We have outgrown the court at United Lutheran," said Karen McMillin, the organizer of the group. "We are working with The Tennis and Fitness Centre and the park district to find indoor space because we want to keep the momentum going with our group."
Aside from Taylor Park, Maple Park also has pickleball-lined courts, as will Euclid Square Park when it re-opens this fall.
"I started playing pickleball last summer with some friends in Naperville," McMillin said. "After playing just one day, I was hooked. It kinda gets in your blood.
"Now we're trying to get more people to join our group. We welcome newcomers and are happy to teach them about the game."
While most of the Oak Park group is middle age or seniors, pickleball offers fun for anybody looking for exercise and fellowship.
"I think the senior population is pretty underserved when it comes to sports," McMillin said. "Pickleball is a sport for all ages. The sport is recreational and fun but also has a healthy element of competition."
Perhaps to his own surprise, pickleball has certainly been a good fit for Terry Kinsey, a regular attendee at the Taylor Park games.
"I've never been good in sports," Kinsey said. "The first time I played pickleball with this group I had fun. Physically, it's less taxing on your body than some other sports but still a great workout.
"Our group is very friendly and caring. We love to get new players, give them pointers and get to know them. I think word of mouth has helped spread the sport's popularity in town."
Pickleball rules are straightforward.
Games are played to 11 with the winning point occurring on serve. The serve and return of serve have to bounce once each, and then every shot can be one bounce or a volley like tennis. Both singles and doubles matches are played (doubles is more common) on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net often lined within a tennis court.
"I've played a lot of racquetball and always loved racket sports," Greg Spear said. "When a friend told me about pickleball in Oak Park, I checked it out and really enjoyed it.
"It's a good outdoor activity that gets you moving around and you meet some people. I enjoy playing indoors as well."
Looking ahead, McMillin mentioned a few top priorities for the group.
"We would like to increase the number of players," she said. "We also would like to play on dedicated pickleball courts rather than having them lined within a tennis court. Lastly, we're hoping to find another place to play indoors."
Nationally, pickleball has found a niche. According to the Sports & Fitness Association's (SIFA) Participant Report, more than 2.5 million play pickleball in the United States. There are also 15,000 indoor and outdoor courts across the country, with at least one location in all 50 states. While pickleball attracts many middle-age players and seniors, the sport is commonly introduced in physical education classes at the middle- and high-school levels.
If you're wondering why the sport is named pickleball, accounts vary.
According to the aforementioned Pritchard, his wife started calling the game pickleball because the combination of different sports reminded her of the pickle boat in a crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
Co-founder McCallum suggested, however, that the game was named after the Pritchards' dog, Pickles, who had a tendency to chase the ball and run off with it.
Regardless of its naming origin, people interested in checking out pickleball in Oak Park are encouraged to attend the weekly games at Taylor Park. The games are free as the group currently charges no fees or dues to play.
For more information, email McMillin at: email@example.com.
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