Pickle mania swept over Mansfield last week. From the parade to the palooza featuring live bands and a playground for kids, Mansfield was all about the pickle.
But while March is host to the St. Paddy’s Pickle Parade, it was in November that Mansfield discovered a whole new dill: Pickleball.
Introduced at the Mansfield Activities Center, pickleball has taken the recreational sports world by storm. It could best be labeled as a mix of tennis, volleyball and ping pong played on a mini tennis court.
“The best way to describe it is to say it’s a small version of tennis, a slower version of tennis. It is the fastest-growing sport among people 55 and over. It’s low impact and the swing of the racquets is slower, so it’s not something like a Serena Williams swing out there,” said Greg Guse, recreation services supervisor for the MAC. “There is a lot of strategy involved, and the players that come here can get very competitive.”
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The low-impact exertion on the body is appealing to many players, including those coming off of injuries.
“I hurt my shoulder and the doctor said switch to pickleball, there is not as much impact for you,” said Jackie Pryor, admitted pickleball novice. “You get a lot of exercise in, you work up a sweat, even with the small court. And it’s just exciting to watch.”
The game was invented in 1965, according to the USA Pickleball Association website, usapa.org.
Washington state congressman Joel Pritchard and friend Bill Bell wanted to play a game that involved everyone in the family. They had a badminton net up, but couldn’t find the proper equipment needed to play the game. A compromise was found when the group found old ping pong paddles and a plastic ball, much like a wiffle ball.
After playing the game one weekend with their families, the pair tinkered with the rules, lowered the net and shortened up the court. Pickleball was born.
“I had heard a rumor, and I don’t know if this is true, that they named it ‘pickleball’ after a dog. The dog’s name was Pickle, and they used Pickle’s ball as the first ball in the game,” said Laurie McGee, Mansfield resident and pickleball enthusiast. “And when they hit the ball out, Pickle would go and pick up the ball and bring it back to the game.”
Mansfield brought the sport to town after Recreation Superintendent Andy Binz saw the potential at a conference. Pickleball has grown into a Friday morning staple at the MAC, Guse said.
“It just started out with four or five people, but then it just kept getting bigger. We are still trying to teach the sport to the community, and some people are ready for tournaments. They want more leagues,” Guse laughed.
The MAC hosts an open court for pickleball from 10 a.m.-noon Fridays.
Growing its base within Mansfield is the next step. At last week’s festival, the MAC set up a booth to help teach kids how to play the game. Coming in May, the MAC will host a clinic for ages 8 and up, allowing kids to hone their skills on the court.
And hopefully by this summer, there will be mini tournaments and more courts for residents of all ages.
“Once you get the rules down, it’s a little different from tennis, it’s a lot of fun,” said Chris Wagner, recent pickleball enthusiast. “Hopefully, we can get some outdoor courts. With those, you can just call someone up and get some games in. It would be fun to (have tournaments), but I’d have to work on my serve.”