Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 17, 2013

Courting a new game

Pickleball to make its local debut

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — A new game sweeping through the South is coming to a local court  soon.

Say hello to Pickleball.

Bob Stacey, who has promoted swimming and running in the area for much of his life, is introducing Pickleball as a sport. It’s a cross between tennis, table tennis and badminton and leans to the older generation whose knees, ankles and hips aren’t what they used to be.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the United States,” Stacey said.

He played a game for the first time in September. Florida is a hotbed for the sport. The Villages, a popular retirement community near Orlando, has 84 Pickleball courts, he said.

“It’s very popular in the South,” he said. “It’s being picked up by a lot of older tennis players whose knees or hips don’t allow them to play anymore.”

The sport is played on a court with the same dimensions as a doubles badminton court, 20 by 44. The net is similar to a tennis net, but is mounted 2 inches lower at 34 inches in the middle. The game is played with a hard paddle and a polymer smaller version of a wiffle ball.

Pickleball is similar to tennis, but with differences. A pickleball ball typically moves at one-third of the average speed of a tennis ball and the court is just under one-third of the total area of a tennis court. Serves are underhanded and games are usually to 11, win by 2.

“It’s a quick hand-eye coordination game,” Stacey said. “You don’t have as much ground to cover.”

There are two unique rules: the double-bounce rule and the kitchen rule.

Double bounce is where the ball is bounced off a serve to the opponent who has to let it bounce once before returning. After that, players can let it bounce once or hit it while it’s in the air.

A line is 7 feet from the net (that’s called the kitchen) and only if you’re behind the line (or outside the kitchen) can you strike the ball in midflight. If you’re in the kitchen area, then you have to let it bounce.

Stacey is an ambassador for the sport in Kentucky and he hopes to watch it grow in Ashland. He first played it in the Kentucky Senior Games. A team from Tates Creek Christian Church brought 18 members, he said. Stacey said he could envision churches in the area putting teams together and competing against each other in a Pickleball league.

He has courts marked off and reserved for the Ashland YMCA from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. He is also exploring the Ashland Tennis Center and area churches for court space.

The sport has been around for nearly 50 years, but has grown in popularity during the last 10 years. The United States Pickleball Association estimates there are more than 100,000 active players.

There are a couple of stories about how the name Pickleball originated. Stacey said it was named after a family dog named Pickles, who chased errant shots down because the wiffle ball belonged to him. The family named the game for the dog’s ball, “Pickles’ Ball,” which later became Pickleball.

But the name may have come from Joan Pritchard, an orginator of the game who said it reminded her of the “Pickle Boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.” But the Pritchard family didn’t get the dog named Pickles until 1967 and the game’s origin dates to 1965.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.