By John Lilley
My wife, Kathy, and I played tennis for many years. Neither of us was very good, but we were at the same level so we played well together. Several years ago, Kathy developed tennis elbow. We tried several remedies, but the pain came back whenever we played. Eventually, we stopped playing.
In 2014, Kathy saw a story on the evening news about a sport called pickleball. It is much easier on the joints and played on a smaller, badminton-size court. I was definitely not impressed. I made it clear that I was not about to play any game that has a funny name like pickleball and is played with what look like whiffle balls. It sounded like a game for old folks — and I don't like to consider myself old, although by any standard I am definitely a senior citizen.
Fast-forward a couple of years and we started hearing more about this sport with the funny name. We saw that Larkinville has two courts and free equipment to borrow. We tried it once and were immediately hooked.
For a while, we just played singles. Then we started hearing about various venues that have recreational play. You don’t need to bring a partner or foursome, you just rotate in and out, round-robin style. After every game, two or three new players come on the court. After a couple hours of play, you have had the opportunity to play with a lot of different people. Between games, you get to know the others who are waiting.
My wife and I have met some wonderful folks in the local pickleball community and have made many new friends. Last year, I hurt my back and was unable to play for several months. While the back pain was not fun, the hardest part was being away from pickleball for so long.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 and for many years it was mostly a game for seniors. It’s much easier on the joints than other sports, and the court is much smaller than a tennis court.
In recent years, however, the sport has caught on with younger folks in a big way. Some venues are just for seniors, but others are open to any age.
It’s great fun to play with anyone from high-school age up to their 80s. There are not too many sports where young and old, male and female, can all play together, and have an awesome time. Sure, the young players can move a lot faster and have much better reactions, but us older folks can get in there and have a blast.
There are also tournaments and ladder leagues if you want more competition. We have found that, no matter where we play, people are always welcoming. The sounds of the paddle contacting the ball, laughter, and cheering are the music of this game.
In 2014, NBC declared pickleball to be the fastest-growing sport in America. If you are interested in checking it out, go to buffalopickleball.com for a list of places and times to play.
Just show up. Someone will have a paddle that you can borrow and there will be players who are more than willing to show you the basics. In a short time, you’ll be having fun. We laugh a lot when we play — often at ourselves.
Please heed this warning, though: Pickleball is highly addictive.
John Lilley, of Orchard Park, is a retired Postal Service manager who loves keeping active.