Seniors celebrate sport’s arrival
WHITMAN — The most popular sport you’ve probably never heard of has come to Whitman — pickleball — and it now has a home court at the old Memorial Field basketball court.
The Whitman courts opened for the sport, which has been played in the United States and Canada for 50 years, on Tuesday, June 30.
About 18 people had expressed interest in the program, said co-organizer Pat Goldmann. She and Betty Geary have been visiting other senior centers in the area to talk about the game they love in hopes of increasing that number.
“We’re just getting started today,” Goldmann said. “As you can see, we’ve got enthusiasts here.”
As she spoke, one doubles game was winding down and another quickly started. Since one net was not yet available, Goldmann used the second court to instruct neophytes in the rules of the game.
“I had seen it before and thought, ‘We could do that,” she said. “As you can see, we have some interest.”
Play will continue from 9 to 11 a.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays until late fall weather forces them indoors, but those who have access to a net may play anytime.
According to the U.S.A. Pickleball Association’s website usapa.org, pickleball is paddle sport created for all ages and skill levels combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. The rules are simple and the game is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players, the USAPA states.
Senior citizens across the country have really taken to it, though it has multiple-generation appeal.
Selectmen on May 12 approved a request by Council on Aging Director Barbara Garvey to set off an unused basketball court behind the Police Station on Essex Street for the unusual low-impact sport named for a cocker spaniel who liked to chase tennis balls.
“After the painful jokes I made [Garvey] actually explained to me what pickleball was,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam had told Selectmen. “But it didn’t help, so I went online.”
He found a three-minute report from the erstwhile CBS Early Show, which he screened for the board to explain the sport.
Local seniors who had been playing in Abington expressed interest in a location on which to play in Whitman, according to Lynam, who said the basketball courts in question would require some rehabilitation. He said some seniors are willing to help with the work and suggested the DPW might help fill in overgrown areas and level it out.
The DPW also painted the pickleball court lines. Nets for the sport are portable and easy to set up.
“It wouldn’t cost much, but it would be an opportunity to offer a program to seniors that we don’t currently have,” Lynam said in May. “I think it’s worth trying to see if there’s any interest in it.”
The number of people filtering in to play, or to learn how, on June 30 may have answered any questions on the matter.
Geary and Goldmann’s visits to area senior centers to talk up the sport didn’t hurt, either.
“Folks around here have played and practiced, now we have people from other towns coming,” said Garvey.
As an indication of the game’s popularity with seniors across the country, Garvey noted that The Villages retirement community has 180 pickleball courts on its grounds.
“I have two little courts on a basketball court, but we’ll see,” she said. “It’s fun — I’ve whacked it a couple of times.”
The USAPA site provides a full rundown on the rules, including how to make a serve, service sequence and scoring as well as the double-bounce rule, non-volley zone, line calls and faults.
Pickleball fans are also reaping the benefits of physical activity, especially senior players.
“Regular exercise and recreation are very important for older adults and the good new is it doesn’t have to be for hours at a time,” said Chris McLaren of Old Colony Elder Services.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that the loss of strength and stamina attributed to aging is in part caused by reduced physical activity. But CDC figures indicate that by age 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity. One solution, according to the CDC is the establishment of community-based physical activity programs that offer aerobic, strengthening, and flexibility components specifically designed for older adults.
“Pickleball sounds great,” McLaren said. “It seems like something that many people can easily do and there’s a social aspect to it — people play with each other — so it gives people a physical activity, but also a chance to get out and see other people.”