Pickleball, anyone?: Locals take to courts for unusually-named, fast-paced game

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Some area residents who are also Florida snowbirds started playing the sport of pickleball in the Sunshine State.

The Floridian foursome – Clay Figard, Ron Lynn, Bill Anthony and Mike Giansante – liked it so much that, nine months ago, they brought it home.

After they approached the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA, the recreational center started offering pickleball in May with taped-off courts. Participants have likened it to playing ping-pong while standing on the table.

Pickleball, an outdoor or indoor sport for singles or doubles, is played on a court the size of one used to play badminton, according to the USA Pickleball Association, which governs the sport.

At its center, the net is 34 inches high. Players use a composite or wooden paddle to hit a plastic ball similar to a wiffle ball.

Three dads created the sport for their bored kids in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. The equipment and rules evolved, and it is now played worldwide, the association said.

Ruth Rosenquist, USA Pickleball Association spokeswoman, said in an email that the “most embraced” story as to how pickleball got its name is that it was named after a cocker spaniel named “Pickles” belonging to one of the co-inventors.

The dog loved chasing the balls and hiding them, the association said.

That doesn’t happen at the Hollidaysburg YMCA, but Frank Kopriva, the Y’s program director, said since Pickleball started here, it has grown in popularity.

“We started out with one court, and there are days that sometimes we have three courts going now,” he said. “It’s definitely been getting more and more popular. It has not slowed down since it began.”

Kopriva said he had heard of pickleball but had never played before the foursome brought it to the Y.

He said while the game seems to have attracted an older population of both men and women, younger people, including children, have hit the local courts.

The Y does not have an official league but offers pickleball as a pick-up program, Kopriva said.

The game has a “very quick pace,” and “can be intense, if you want,” Kopriva said.

It’s been described as a fast game with a slow ball.

“When the better players are playing, it’s a pretty fast game; the ball comes at you pretty fast and so it’s just a real fun, fun game to play,” said Figard, who plays most weekday mornings.

Giansante, who has helped new players learn the game at the Y, said pickleball isn’t hard to learn. He described himself as an average athlete “at best,” and in a few months time in Florida, he was playing with and winning against the better players, and so were his buddies.

“It’s not a hard game to learn,” he said. “We took some girls up there at the Y that they never hit a ball in their life so they knew nothing about eye-hand coordination, and they’re playing really well. … It’s the kind of game you’re going to play at your own level, but you can keep moving up levels.”

Since there aren’t many places to play locally, a couple of the players drive to Hollidaysburg from Indiana.

Giansante said the goal was to get pickleball established at the Y so it is still going strong when they return from Florida after this winter.

He said they had difficulty finding a place to play, but the Y welcomed it and plans to add the court lines for pickleball permanently when it resurfaces the floor.

“They went all out with it,” he said. “They did a fine job for us.”

Many of those playing were tennis players, including Figard, who has replaced his regular tennis game with pickleball because he enjoys it more.

Figard enjoys the “great, great exercise” pickleball offers, he said. He can average about 10,000 steps on his pedometer in a morning spent playing the sport, which includes breaks for taking his turn on the bench.

“It’s an addicting game,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.