Imagine a hybrid mix of badminton, tennis, racquetball and ping pong and you've got pickleball.
It's one of the fastest growing sports in America, and it can be played right here in Mansfield. Since November 2015 folks have been showing up several times a week at the Mansfield Activities Center (MAC) to play this unique game that, to the surprise of many, has actually been around for more than five decades.
"We stay up to date in the industry, and we knew it would be an up-and-coming sport, so we added it once we had the supplies," said Greg Guse, Mansfield recreation supervisor. "The response has been excellent. We have about 80 players on our list that come out each week."
The MAC hosts open court for pickleball three times each week, Mondays 2-5 p.m., Wednesdays 5-8 p.m., and Fridays 10 a.m.-1 p.m. And while there is no league, things get pretty competitive.
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The MAC is also hosting a Pickleball Tournament on February 24 beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Pickleball began in 1965 just outside of Seattle when two friends, Congressman Joel Pritchard and local businessman Bill Bell, played a makeshift game of badminton. Unable to find ordinary racquets and a shuttlecock, they used ping-pong - or table tennis - paddles and a perforated plastic ball.
The name pickleball is believed to have been derived from the Pritchards' Cocker Spaniel named Pickles. When a ball would come his way, he would scoop it up in his mouth and take off running.
Various rules were put in place and the game became official. Players can use a variety of paddles ranging from wood to graphite. A hard plastic ball is used on both indoor and outdoor courts that are 20 feet wide and 44 feet long.
The first official pickleball court was built in the backyard of Pritchard's neighbor and friend, Bob O'Brien. Now, there are nearly 4,000 locations to play in the U.S., according to the web site www.usapa.org.
And, of course, one of those is in Mansfield.
"I had not heard of it until I came to work for the Parks Department, but it's always full," said Ann Beck, Mansfield Parks and Recreation marketing and communications manager.
"It's a great sport for the active adult. Seniors are not seniors anymore, and activities like this are a big reason why. It's lower impact on the joints, and it's just a lot of fun."
Mark Estill, of Arlington, has been playing for three years at three locations, including the MAC.
"I started playing because I saw it offered at my church, and just thought it was interesting. I found I really enjoyed it, and just kept going and getting more and more involved to now, where it's a regular part of my weekly schedule," he said.
"I think pickleball gives people the opportunity to maintain an activity level that's not stressful on your body. You can play at your own pace and be as involved and aggressive as you want to be. It's mostly older adults playing, but we're seeing a lot of younger players picking up the game now too, it's just really flexible for any skill level.
"My advice for someone starting out? Don't dive for the ball...unless you're prepared to pick up the pieces - of yourself."
There is no cost to play for members of the MAC, or day passes can be purchased for residents and non-residents.
"It is also a very social sport, with friendly competition and lots of conversations," Guse said. "It is very easy to learn and pick up, which is why it is growing so quickly."
Jim Burk, of Mansfield, was a long-time tennis player who is now an avid pickleball player. He has been playing for two years after getting hooked on the sport by his brother in Frisco, who also plays.
"I played tennis for years, and really appreciate pickleball for being just as fun and competitive, but a lot less wear and tear on the body," he said. "Plus it's a great way to socialize. My wife and I are new to the area so we don't know a lot of people, but I can come here to play pickleball and we're all friends."
The upcoming tournament is one of two the city hosts. They also have one in September at Fieldhouse USA.
The tournament will feature men's and women's doubles in a double-elimination competition. Divisions include 59-and-Under, 60-69, and 70-Plus. Cost is $20 per player, with lunch and snacks provided. Deadline to register is Feb. 15.
"At every tournament we have teenagers who enter, so there is a cross section of players," Beck said.
Anyone interested in playing in the tournament should contact the MAC at 817-728-3680 or visit mansfieldparks.com
And if anyone is interested in learning to play the game, Guse said that's also easy to do at the MAC.
"If any are looking to play or want to learn, we have plenty of players who are willing to teach the game," he said.