Pickle what? New game offered at park

GREENFIELD — After retiring last February, Pat Stites was in search of a new hobby.

Struggling with tennis and racquetball at a young age, Stites decided to try a different sport on the courts — pickleball.

Pickle what?

Created in 1965 near Seattle, Washington, pickleball is a tennis-like game on a smaller, condensed court.

Playing two-on-two, partners rally to 11 points, with each team only gaining points if the serve is in its possession. A margin of two points, as well, is needed to secure a win.

And the ball? It is plastic like a Wiffle ball.

Unlike tennis, the ball may bounce once before volleys are allowed. The player serving the ball — with a paddle a little larger than that used in pingpong — alternates sides and serves until he or she is credited with a fault.

“I read about pickleball several years ago and saw last year where the parks department was trying to start a group,” Stites said, who retired from IUPUI after 35 years. “I just enjoy being active and being outside and meeting new people to enjoy something with.”

Stites was in luck again this year, too, as a local couple has been offering lessons this summer at Riley Park.

Janet Smith, from Cumberland, and her husband, Bill, are seasoned pickleball players. After vacationing for retirement 10 years ago, the two picked up the game and never put it down.

“They (Smiths) have really put so much effort into getting people together.” Stites said. “Depending on your level of play, it is not as fast (as tennis).”

Mostly popular in warmer states, Smith and her husband first played pickleball in Florida.

“It’s the fastest growing sport among seniors,” Smith said, who retired from Roche Diagnostics “It’s very popular down there (in Florida). I first saw it in a retirement community in Arizona, though.”

Smith also said the game is beginning to be taught in gym classes in middle and high schools. And her grandchildren already knew how to play.

On July 2, Pat Carroll, a retired USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association) tennis pro (eight national titles and 5.0 skill rating), visited Greenfield all the way from California. Riley Park, which has now has two courts available for pickleball, was one of her stops around Indiana. Smith said almost 30 players were in attendance.

Carroll has conducted several free clinics in Indianapolis this summer including one in Brownsburg and one at the Monon Convention Center.

“It was amazing how much I learned (with Carroll),” Stites said. “I had never had a paddle in my hand before.”

Pickleball clinics hosted by Smith and her husband will continue until the end of July on Thursday evenings (6 to 8 p.m.) and Saturday mornings (9 to 11 a.m.).

The public can play, too, as paddles and balls can be rented from the Parks Department office in the Pat Elmore Senior Center.

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.