Early Tuesday morning, the Fayetteville Memorial Building was brightly lit, its old wooden floors freshly mopped and squeaky clean.
A group of people — five women, one man and a 12-year-old girl — dressed in workout gear got ready for the morning’s activity, lacing up sneakers and placing water bottles on nearby tables.
After the group assembled two nets approximate in height to a tennis net and carefully laid plastic “L”-shaped markers on the ground to serve as boundary lines, they picked teams and got down to business.
The morning’s first match featured two teams of two women who quickly picked up their racquets and began volleying a whiffle-sized, green plastic ball back and forth across the net.
After a sharply hit ball landed with no return hit, the morning’s first score was registered.
“One,” the server called out, adding a point to her team’s mental scoreboard.
And about 15 minutes later, when one team reached 11, the game was over and two new teams took their place on the court trying their hand at a game of “pickleball.”
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Although it might sound like something you eat, pickleball is an indoor/outdoor sport of increasing popularity and a cross between tennis, badminton and pingpong played on a modified tennis court.
It’s commonly played in the senior circuit these days, although adults and children of all ages join in, but it was the brainchild of former Washington State Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friends who were bored one summer afternoon in 1965 and, when they couldn’t find any badminton equipment, improvised using pingpong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. And, of course, his dog Pickles liked to chase and hide the balls, so Pritchard, according to the American Pickleball Association, named his new sport “Pickleball.”
Today, Pritchard’s sport is played in all 50 states, and every Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Fayette County Memorial Building Building thanks to Active Southern West Virginia.
Dave Dickerson, a Fayette County school bus driver from Babcock, tries to play every week.
“I like it,” he said, explaining the sport offers something for people of every fitness level. “It is what you make of it. You don’t have to be an athlete to do it. You can play without killing yourself or you can make it a good exertion.”
Laura Miller recently moved to the area when her husband took a job with the Summit Bechtel Reserve. She says she heard of pickleball from friends in Maryland who play it and decided to give it a try. She said she now plays every week.
“I am a huge tennis player and decided to give it a try,” Miller said. “It’s a completely different sport. It’s a good workout.”
Jennifer Robinson also attended Tuesday with her 12-year-old daughter Marin Robinson, a homeschool student.
“It’s a good workout, and it’s for everyone,” Jennifer said. “People thought it was just for old people, but it’s not. I want people to know it is a competitive game, and it’s easy entry but you can play as hard as you want. It’s great fun.”
Teresa Workman, a Certified Public Accountant and community leader for Active Southern West Virginia’s pickleball program, said people from all ages and levels of fitness are encouraged to play.
“We are very welcoming to beginners,” Workman said.
Active Southern West Virginia Executive Director Melanie Seiler says she gets a lot of questions about what pickleball is and how it is played.
“It’s found to be exciting, because it’s a new activity,” Seiler said. “This is definitely an aerobic workout with games lasting between 15 to 20 minutes, but (it) can be as intense as you make it.”
Seiler says pickleball is all about ball placement and not speed or strength, making it a great activity for individuals of all ages, including seniors.
“The technique outweighs the speed and strength,” she said. “That’s why seniors enjoy it so much.”
Seiler said Active Southern West Virginia is currently searching for a donated, indoor venue in Fayette County to hold pickleball in the evenings as she said more participants are interested but cannot attend during the current 8:30 a.m. weekday time slot.
“We want to reach people who have barriers to physical activity and help remove those barriers whether it be cost, equipment, location, skill or knowledge,” she said. “Our programming is all designed for beginners in a safe and educational environment. It is not competitive or elite. We encourage a welcoming atmosphere.”
Active Southern West Virginia offers a variety of free weekly community events. Anyone seeking more information or anyone wishing to provide an evening pickballball location can contact Active Southern West Virginia at 304-254-8488 or visit them online at www.activeswv.org.