Laguna Woods, California: Score one for Laguna Woods Village Pickleball evangelist, by Jennifer Karmarkar:

Score one for Laguna Woods Village pickleball evangelist

Mary Rayner hits the first ball on the new pickleball courts during a ribbon cutting in Laguna Woods, CA on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Rayner, along with her late husband Dale, were the first to bring pickleball to Laguna Woods in 2011. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

When Mary Rayner and her late husband, Dale, arrived in Laguna Woods Village as “sunbirds” — escaping Palm Springs’ summer swelter — they brought with them their love for pickleball.

That was 2011, when the only paddle sports available in the Village were table tennis and paddle tennis. Having traveled around the country in their RV, the Rayners knew how popular pickleball was becoming. They were able to get Recreation to purchase temporary nets and to paint a non-volley zone line on the existing four paddle tennis courts at Gate 12 so they could be used for both sports.

In January 2012, the Pickleball Club was formed with 35 members.

“Pickleball was our love and we decided to put our extra time in that, not only for ourselves for exercise but for other people,” said Mary Rayner.

She and her husband started playing the game in 1975 using makeshift wooden paddles and portable nets and playing in driveways, on sports courts or on blacktopped roads wherever they went. As they traveled, they enjoyed teaching others the game.

“When you’re helping other people and teaching them, you get more out of it yourself. You always do if you encourage people,” Rayner said, adding that she’s “never played a game that’s as much fun.”

The sport caught on quickly in the Village as residents heard about the game. Today, the Pickleball Club numbers 285 members, making it one of the largest clubs in the Village. According to the U.S. Pickleball Association, there are now about 2.8 million players in the U.S. alone.

How does Rayner explain the sport’s popularity?  “It can be played by all ages,” said Rayner, a golfer and former tennis player who will turn 90 this month. “And even as you grow older, there are people my age that still play it. This is what makes it so attractive. You can teach kids 8, 9, 10, 11 to play and they love it. They play with their grandmas and they think that’s great.”

Rayner, who moved to Tigard, Oregon, in 2016, had the honor of serving the first ball on the new pickleball courts during the dedication ceremony, on March 13.

“I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity of being part of this,” she said. “I just feel that I’m a little part.”

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