Paul Jenkins, at dailycommercial.com, writes — and WATCH THE VIDEO:
LEESBURG — It may not be the birthplace of the sport, but The Plantation at Leesburg can certainly make a claim for being the epicenter of pickleball in Lake County.
With 12 courts in the subdivision, 250 members in its pickleball association and another 50 to 75 people who play the game but aren’t members of the association, pickleball is wildly popular in the 55-plus community.
There are plenty of players of all different skill levels so that people in Plantation don’t have to look far to find a good game against people of similar abilities.
But in Plantation, there is also a desire to share all that pickleball wealth.
That’s why each Monday, Plantation is the site of a fairly unique event when it hosts an inter-community evening of pickleball.
Players from communities such as Royal Highlands, Royal Harbor, Arlington Ridge, Highland Lakes, Legacy, Hawthorne, the Lakes of Mount Dora and more arrive at Plantation, greeting each other like old friends and getting ready to do battle on the immaculate courts under the lights.
The players are all intermediate to advanced and the games are played at a pretty high level.
“Quite a few years ago we had a number of communities that were just starting pickleball,” said Bill Hilchey, a Plantation resident and pickleball teacher. “We’ve had pickleball here since the mid-80s, so other communities came to us asking if we could give them a hand getting started.”
Enter Peter and Joanne Patterson, who agreed to not only teach Plantation residents, but also residents of other communities.
The couple eventually took their teaching talents up the road to Pear Park once that facility opened. Out of their interactions with all those other players came the idea to invite them to Plantation once a week.
“Plantation pickleball is all about promoting mental and physical good health,” Peter Patterson said. “It’s about reaching out to seniors, involvement in social aspects, the mental aspects and having a lot of fun. It’s what retirement is all about.”
Now, Plantation is the place to be for pickleball players on Monday evenings. There is a clear social aspect to the gathering and time passes quickly for players waiting to get on the court as they chat with other players.
But conversations stop almost mid-sentence when their turn comes to get on the court. Then it is all business.
They are there to have a good time, but everyone steps on the court with the intention of winning.
“With something like this you’re not playing the same people every time,” said Art Lievre, the president of the Plantation Pickleball Association. “We’re very happy that Peter and Joanne have been able to bring in so much diversity for us to play with. You can learn some things by playing people you haven’t played before. It’s a lot of fun.”