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Racket Sports by Charlie Garfinkel: Pickelball surging in popularity

What is the fastest-growing racquet sport in Western New York, is in more than 60 facilities and has more than 1,000 participants? If you said “pickleball” you would be absolutely correct.

Jim Kargen has been playing pickleball for the past 14 years. During the winter he plays at the Villages in Florida, which has over 160 pickleball courts.

“For each of the eight years that I came back to Buffalo I would try to convince many people, especially players who played other racquet sports, what a great game pickleball was,” Kargen said. “I would talk about the rules of the game, what a wonderful workout it was, and that people of all ages could play the game. I would also show them the paddles and wiffle ball that were used for the game. Unfortunately, no one was interested in getting involved.”

About six years ago, Don Voisenet decided to put up a net and paint lines for a pickleball court in the Third Warders Club in North Tonawanda. Shortly afterward, the West Seneca Baptist School did the same with four courts.

From that time on, the game really started to boom. Voisenet is also the New York District Director for pickleball. He is recognized with Jason Santerra, a Buffalo lead ambassador, and Harold Kieta, an ambassador, as being three of the main people to get pickleball started in WNY six years ago.

Voisenet held the New York State Pickleball Championships at RiverWorks last month and drew close to 250 participants. Voisenet notes that pickleball is being played by nearly two million people throughout the U.S.

“Pickleball is an easy game to pick up and enjoy,” Voisinet said. “The game is especially appealing to Baby Boomers who are looking to be more physically active in retirement.”

Phil Primerano Jr. is the general manager of JB’ s Tennis Shop. “When I was asked to put pickleball racquets in our store four years ago I was very skeptical as the game was in its infancy,” he said. “So I only purchased four models. Today, because of the way that the game has boomed, we now have over 50 different models. It is truly amazing at how the sport has caught on.”

Racquets sell for $50 and up.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions concerning the game:

Where is Pickleball played? In school gyms, YMCAs, recreation centers, some tennis courts and some churches. There are over 60 sites.

How do clubs or facilities prepare for pickle ball play? Lines are painted on the court or space of the facilities. The court has a net and looks like a small tennis court. The courts are 20 feet wide and 44 feet long.

What is the difference between pickleball equipment and tennis equipment? Pickleball rackets are solid wood paddles that are mostly 15 inches long and 8 inches wide. Most tennis rackets are 27 inches long and 11 inches wide and are strung. In Pickleball, a wiffle ball that is roughly the size of a baseball is used. Sneakers work for both sports.

How is Pickleball played? A match is two out of three games to 11 in both singles and doubles. A player or team must win by at least two points. Getting to the net is especially important in doubles as the easy-to-handle paddles help to put the wiffle ball away on contact.

How do you serve in Pickleball? The serving players must announce the score before they serve and they must serve underhanded.

What are non-volley zones? There is a zone between the net and a line that is 7 feet away from the net. You can’t volley (a ball hit in the air) in that zone. The reason is that an easy overhead smash could be hit with such velocity that someone could get hurt.

My take: Wednesday I had the pleasure to observe pickleball at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Williamsville. Matches were on three courts. Players from middle age and up were playing doubles. I was greatly impressed with the prowess of the players that I watched. If you are a tennis, squash, racquetball or platform tennis player, you will greatly enjoy playing pickleball. If the best part of your racket game is your volleying you will really be a force to reckon with.

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