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In Largo, pickleball players like fun game with silly name

LARGO

Ron Abraham considers it a life changer.

It makes his wife, Sallie, suffer from sudden bouts of laughter.

And while Rose Craft appreciates its simplicity, for Susan Forget, it has been an opportunity to reach out and meet new friends.

The four retirees have discovered there's a new game in town.

About eight weeks ago, the city of Largo started offering pickleball at the Highland Recreation Complex. The oddly named sport is a combination of Ping-Pong, badminton and tennis.

The complex now sees about a dozen regular participants on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, according to Mandy Petersen, recreation supervisor at the complex.

And interest is growing, Petersen said. "Last week, we registered with the U.S.A. Pickleball Association, and from that we've already gotten several calls and visitors checking out the courts."

Pickleball is played with rackets resembling giant Ping-Pong paddles and plastic balls similar to Wiffle Balls. Players try to place the ball out of reach in their opponents' court. Games are either singles or doubles, similar to tennis.

"But it's slower than tennis, and easier to play, so it's especially good for, let's say, those more mature players," said Sallie Abraham, 65. "But really it's all about the fun, and we love the opportunity to just get out here and laugh the whole time."

Although pickleball is a new offering in Largo, it has been around since 1965, according to the U.S.A. Pickleball Association's website. Joel Pritchard, a congressman in Washington state, created the activity from old badminton equipment, cutting down the length of the paddle handles and lowering the net in order for his kids and their friends to easily knock a ball back and forth.

And what about the pickles?

"Pickles was the name of the creator's dog," explained Nick Gandy, director of communications for the Florida Sports Foundation. "Pickles would chase the ball around the court, and so they named the game after him."

Gandy first saw pickleball played in Florida in 2003, the same year the foundation added the sport to the annual Florida Senior Games.

"It first became popular at the Villages (a retirement community outside Orlando), and I believe seniors enjoy it so much because it's a shorter court than tennis, so running cross court is easier," he said.

Last month, 160 players competed in the pickleball portion of the Senior Games held in Fort Myers, according to Gandy.

Ever since Ron Abraham, 72, was forced to cut back time on the golf course because of an injured rotator cuff, he's been missing athletic activities. "Now we're playing pickleball, and it's great to have a sport again," he said. "My rotator cuff is not affected because you serve underhand and you play low."

On Jan. 5, he and his wife challenged Forget, 56, a snowbird from Canada, and Craft, her neighbor, to a game of doubles.

Forget first played pickleball in Canada last year. "When I came back down I wanted to keep playing, but I couldn't find it in Clearwater. Largo was the closest city that offered it," she said.

Craft, 70, who describes herself as a nonathlete, saw how much fun her friend was having and decided to give it a try.

"I was immediately hooked."

>>fast facts

Coed pickleball

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Monday; 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: Highland Recreation Complex, 400 Highland Ave., Largo.

Cost: $1 with a resident Largo recreation card; $1.25 with a nonresident Largo recreation card; $2.25 without a card.

For information on the program: Call (727) 518-3016. For information on pickleball, visit usapa.org.

In Largo, pickleball players like fun game with silly name 01/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 6:01pm]

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