Pickleball is all the rage and is starting to catch on in Fairfield
Updated 12:15 pm, Friday, June 10, 2016
FAIRFIELD — Pickleball.
Maybe you’ve heard of it? No? It’s a game that’s been around for 50 years, but is just starting to catch on here in town at the Bigelow Center for Senior Activities.
Quite popular at the senior center, its proponents are hoping to expand the game to everyone in town, no matter their age, with free, hour-long introductory sessions this Saturday, and again on July 9.
Created in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington state, and his friend, Bill Bell, Bigelow Center pickleball coordinator Betsy Hulme describes the game as a combination of badminton, ping pong, and tennis.
It uses what looks like an oversized ping pong paddle and plastic, yellow balls that resemble Wiffle balls. The game is played on a smaller court than traditional tennis and a player only gets points when they are serving. Games are played to either 7 or 11 points. The ball is served underhand, and games can be played as singles, or doubles.
Almost all of the town’s tennis courts now also have the blue lines delineating the pickleball court, and Pickleball Ambassador Maryann Charmoz said they are working with the Recreation Department to convert a set of tennis courts into dedicated pickleball courts.
Pickleball facts and information
Pickleball, created in 1965 in the state of Washington, the game combines aspects of badminton, ping pong and tennis. Legend has it that it was named after the creator’s dog, Pickles, who chased after the balls.
It is played on a smaller court, with a lower net, and an oversized ping pong paddle. Paddles can be found in all price ranges, starting at about $25.
The ball is yellow and plastic, with holes like a Wiffle ball.
The game can be played indoors or outside, and a game is won by scoring 11 points.
The USA Pickleball Association was formed in 1984 to promote the game and provide players with official rules, tournaments, rankings and promotional materials. The first rulebook was published in March, 1984.
There is even a magazine, Pickleball, devoted to the sport.
Pickleball is played in all 50 states, and there are nearly 4,000 locations to play on the USAPA Places to Play map.
Pickleball is played at the Bigelow Center for Senior Activies Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, indoors.
All of the town’s tennis courts, with the exception of the courts at the two high schools and Dwight Elementary, are striped for pickleball.
Charmoz, in her volunteer position, lets visitors to town know where they can find pickleball courts, or games.
The game itself is relatively easy to pick up, and at the senior center, after an initial hour of mixed playing and socializing, players are grouped by ability. The games move quickly, and if there are a lot of people waiting on the sidelines, the games are played to 7 points. Paddles are provided for those who need them.
“There’s always people waiting on the sidelines,” Charmoz said. “I’ve made so many good friends just by playing pickleball.”
Dennis McCarthy is one of the 120 registered pickleball players at the center, and recently participated in the Connecticut State Masters Pickleball Tournament. McCarthy was one of the 11 players from the Bigelow Center who qualified for the national tournament next summer in Birmingham, Ala.
“I picked up the game last fall,” McCarthy said. “I was a tennis player for years.” There are two important aspects to the game, he said. “It’s a fast-moving game,” McCarthy said, with a very strong social element. “I can always go to the senior center, and there will be people who want to play a game.”
There is even, Hulme said, a player at the center in her 90’s. “She doesn’t have the mobility, but is able to hit the ball back. It’s a game for ages and abilities.”
Also among the “Fairfield Picklers,” as the Bigelow players are known, is one Betty Blake, mother of tennis pro James Blake. James Blake has also dropped in to visit the pickleballers. “Such a gentleman,” Hulme said.
“It’s very easy to learn to play at a proficient level,” McCarthy said, and also easy to take your game to the next level, if you want.
The introductory sessions are at 9 and 10 a.m. this Saturday and July 9 at the Tomlinson Middle School tennis courts on Hillcrest Road. Registration is required; contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Equipment will be provided.