Pickleball at the Water Tower: A tasty sport for all ages

by Debra Malinics
Posted 10/14/20

I had seen friends and neighbors playing Pickleball, and it looked like fun. More importantly, it looked easy. After all, how difficult can it be to hit a ball with a racquet across a net on a small …

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Pickleball at the Water Tower: A tasty sport for all ages

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I had seen friends and neighbors playing Pickleball, and it looked like fun. More importantly, it looked easy. After all, how difficult can it be to hit a ball with a racquet across a net on a small playing court? I decided to take a lesson and find out.

I was planning to spend a few weeks at the Jersey shore in September, and the town I was visiting has an active recreation program that includes Pickleball. I figured I'd take a lesson or two there and be a champion Pickleball player by the time I returned home to Chestnut Hill. (Pickleball courts are available at the Water Tower Recreation Center in Chestnut Hill, at the Germantown Cricket Club in Germantown, Seger Park in center city, the Sporting Club at the Bellevue and at many Philadelphia public parks and recreation centers.)

I signed up for the beginner class, planning to advance to the higher levels later in my vacation. I imagined being on the Pickleball court, hearing ooohs and aaahs from observers as they watched me play Pickleball with ease and finesse. I imagined hopping over the net to shake the hand of my opponent, but wait, that occurs in tennis, not Pickleball. I’m getting my sports confused.

On the first day of the class, I entered the gym and was surprised to see about 30 people who had signed up for the beginner level. Before we could begin, however, we needed to have our temperature taken, sign a Covid liability release and an injury release. Alas, a sign of the times. When those details were done, we filed into the gym, where eight Pickleball courts were set up. Four courts on each side of the gym with four players to a court. 

Soon, two instructors were explaining the rules of Pickleball, showing us how to swing the racquet, step into the swing, hold the racquet correctly and hit the ball properly. There seemed to be a lot more to the sport than I originally thought. We were divided into groups of four and taken onto the courts. Oh boy, I thought. Pickleball greatness, here I come!

We were told to aim our balls for the opposite side of the court, which sounds easy, but multiple balls seemed to have their own ideas of where they wanted to go. Balls were flying high and low, hitting the walls, bouncing by other players and rolling along the sides of the gym. Balls were flying everywhere except on the opposite side of the court where they were supposed to be flying. Balls bounced off the nets and were hit into viewing stands.

It was chaos in motion. Also, we were working up a sweat, so everyone’s glasses were fogging up. We were sweaty and breathing hard, and our eyelids were sweating. I never knew eyelids could sweat. I was learning a lot.

Again and again the instructors stopped to show us what we were doing wrong and how to do it right, from holding the racquet to executing the serve. But time and time again, we watched our stubborn balls soar everywhere and anywhere. Pickelball was not as easy as I had thought. 

Slowly, however, we improved, and it seemed like a  miracle when we got it right. Many of us would let out a yell, a giggle or shout with glee when we got the serve right. We played for an hour and a half. It was great fun and physically demanding, but this could have been because we spent so much time running after our balls and running them back to our courts to play.

By the end of the hour playing time, my make-up was running down my face, my glasses were fogged and slipping down my sweaty nose. My eyes were blinking back sweat drops, and my hair was frizzing out, set free at last and now going in all new directions. I had that sportive, sweaty, “liberated” look, but I still found myself smiling broadly with a sense of great satisfaction. I felt I had done a great job, and I wanted to play again.

Later that day, I ordered a racquet and balls, and tomorrow I’m heading over to the court to hit some balls. I find myself smiling whenever I think about playing Pickelball again, and I imagine myself on the court with TV cameras rolling and the announcer proclaiming, “Let the Pickleball games begin!” 

BTW, why is this racquet sport called Pickleball? It was created in 1965 by a Washington state Congressman named Joel Pritchard whose dog, Pickles, would constantly chase balls and run off with them. Since Pickles considered all the balls to be his, “Pickles' Ball”morphed into “Pickleball,” and the name stuck.

For more information, contact one of the locations listed above that have Pickleball courts. Debra Malinics is a long-time Chestnut Hill resident and retired advertising agency owner.

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