Local fans gaining a taste for pickleball

Published 12:08 am Monday, December 19, 2016

By David Freeze
For the Salisbury Post

A first-time event on Friday at the JF Hurley YMCA brought avid pickleball players together from across the state to benefit the Christmas Happiness Fund.

“It was all about festive fun here at the Holly Jolly tournament while serving with a purpose,” said Greg Dunn, who organized the tournament along with Davidson Rowan Pickleball. “A fun sport with a funnier name that is extremely addictive. A lot of people said yes to make this event happen in a short time.”

Hurley YMCA Executive Director Richard Reinholz added, “This tournament was just a month in planning. It is part of the YMCA’s desire to establish community connections. We stand ready to collaborate to benefit great local organizations and other United Way agencies while giving back in every way we can.”

Pickleball began during the summer of 1965 in the state of Washington as a children’s pastime on a slow-moving Saturday afternoon. Today’s game combines elements of table tennis, tennis and badminton. Players use wooden or composite rackets and hit a perforated ball, similar to a Whiffle ball.

More than 80 pickleball enthusiasts played all day in a sort of equal playing time format broken only by a covered dish lunch. Morning matches had the men playing each other and the women doing the same on the next court. Afternoon matches included mixed teams. Players rotated to play with other players throughout the day, with the goal of playing 10 games of doubles and 10 more of mixed doubles each. Games moved quickly because a point was earned on each volley, not just when the serving team scored.

Locals Susan Graham and Libby Post enjoyed the games even though they currently compete at different levels. Graham, a competitive tennis player, enjoys playing most of her pickleball during the winter.

“This is a great format, you just show up and play,” she said. “Pickleball around town doesn’t require you to arrange a foursome ahead of time, and is also addictive and great exercise. I can just show up and play and it helps my tennis game.”

Post, who is Rowan-Salisbury Schools child nutrition director, added, “I signed up to play as soon as I heard about the tournament. I took an annual leave day because I didn’t want to miss the fun. This is a great way to make new friends and my husband loves it. I want to learn to be in the right place on the court and of the court that we have at home.”

While pickleball has been quickly gaining momentum locally over the last year, the United States Pickleball Association has been in place since 1984. Bessemer City’s Sandra Stewart serves as a volunteer ambassador for the sport. She said, “I had never heard of it and my mother-in-law asked if I wanted to play. Quickly addicted, I found that the sport was good for me mentally, physically and socially and the competitive aspect works for me too.” Stewart is a doubles pro and played in 18 tournaments this year while expecting to participate in more in 2017.

Younger players have continued to discover pickleball. Rebecca Mendel came from Raleigh to play on Friday. Mendel is a junior at Meredith College and is a cheerleader at NC State.

“Pickleball was just made an elective at NC State,” Mendel said. “I play for fun because the games are friendly and fun to be around. Players seem to throw out the age differences and just mesh together. It was a last-minute decision to come here today. Most of my playing is done at the Cary and Raleigh Ys.”

Others helped Dunn organize the tournament, including Darlene Deflorio-Rapier of Welcome. She arrived early to set up the court and then spent the day helping the newer players and organizing who would play next. Deflorio-Rapier had a brain aneurysm two years ago and doctors said that she could hope to recover 25 percent of her mental and physical abilities.

“My life stopped. I started with yoga and Zumba but realized quickly that pickleball was my sport,” she said. “I began playing every day. Not only did I return physically and mentally to normal, but pickleball helped with my anxiety and depression. I quit smoking and drinking and started giving back. My husband says I live and breathe pickleball and I do! He will get to see me a lot more if we get a court at home.”

Another pickleball tournament is set for April 1-2. Jon Post heads the tournament committee for the Salisbury Rotary Pickleball Championships. Proceeds will go to Rotary community projects. Post said, “Tournaments fill up quickly. This is a great game for everybody. A player can get pretty good with about a half hour of instruction. We are working to get school programs started.”

Contact Post at 704-223-0893. All matches will be played at the JF Hurley YMCA. Pickleball is available regularly at the Hurley YMCA and at Hall Gym through Salisbury Parks and Recreation, along with several area churches.