There is nothing sour about Pickleball

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By Mark Clark

It ain’t just for kids anymore.

Want to participate in the fastest growing court sport in the world? Then you have to try Pickleball. The sport, started in the mid-1960s because of boredom, is not boring. It is fast-paced and can be played by anyone.

Pickleball is beginning to takeover in the Bi-City area where there are game courts and leagues being formed by local YMCAs and Parks and Recreation Departments. Some – Opelika in particular – are constructing top-notch facilities of 10 or more courts to handle the number of people wanting to play the sport for fun or competitively.

The sport is actually a combination of traditional sports that is quite nontraditional. The sport of Pickleball combines tennis, badminton, table tennis and Wiffle Ball. It is sort of like racquetball as well. And maybe a little bit of volleyball when it comes to the scoring.

According to former Glenwood School athlete Scott Balkcum, who works for the Downtown YMCA in Columbus, Ga., Pickleball is a sport “you can play all of your life.”

“The sport is great for hand-eye coordination and cardio-vascular workouts. It can be as competitive as you want or be played just for fun. One thing about the sport is that there is a lot of diversity among the people playing. It does not matter what race or sex or age you are. There is a place for everyone,” Balkcum said.

While the sport is still quite young among the local YMCAs and Parks and Recreation Departments, it has been played for years locally at Columbus State University where the college offers a physical education class on the sport. That is where Phenix City native and 1998 Central High graduate Chad Dean learned to play the sport.

Dean, a high school coach at Northside High in Columbus, and Mike Ruzeski, the Tennis Manager at Cooper Creek Tennis Complex in Columbus, Ga., recently won the 3.5 division at the Peachtree Corner Lifetime Fitness Tournament. The duo played six games beginning at 9:30 a.m. and finished at 3:30 p.m. The longest break was an hour waiting on the winner of the losers’ bracket to be determined.

“I played it back at Columbus State when I went there. It was a lot of fun then. When they started playing here at the YMCA, I thought I would give it a try just to get in some exercise. Then one day Mike and I got to talking about it and decided we would see how well we could compete in a tournament. We won. It was great fun. We met a lot of folks that enjoyed playing like we do. Now, I think we are going to start playing in more tournaments,” Dean said.

Dean said there were 21 states represented at the tournament which also had a professional division.

“I liked tennis growing up, but it did not seem like any of my friends did. My dad and I played a lot of ping-pong. It seemed like we always had a ping-pong table in our house. Playing Pickleball is a lot like playing both of those sports. And, like those sports, having long legs and long arms are an advantage,” Dean said.

The Downtown YMCA sets up four Pickleball courts each day and draws over 100 players per week. According to John Parker, a local player, and Balkcum, the number grows each week as word spreads about the sport.

“Our members can come down and use our equipment or bring their own. Most of the players, after they play a couple of times, tend to go buy their own paddles. For us, Pickleball is not the only activity we offer. But, it sure is getting popular,” Balkcum said.

“People play here seven days a week. Some come down on their lunch hour to get in a couple of games. We started offering the sport in the fall of 2017 and it has just taken off. People really enjoy playing – no matter their age. We have senior citizens and kids playing together all the time.”

For more information on where you can play Pickleball, contact your local Parks and Recreation Departments and YMCAs.