PITTSFIELD — Some say that the sport received its name from Congressmen Joel Prichard’s dog that would chase the ball around the open badminton court, but others believe Prichard’s wife, Joan, who had a history of competitive rowing, came up with the name pickleball because the game reminded her of a pickle boat.
Fast forward 55 years and no matter what side of history you’re on, pickleball is now played in both middle and high schools as part of the physical education curriculum, while more than 15,000 indoor and outdoor courts dedicated to the sport continue to pop up around the country.
“I was addict the first time I ever played it,” Nicolette McGovern of Berkshire Mountain Pickleball said. “It’s so much fun and its so much exercise and so healthy for you.”
A game of pickleball involves two paddles, a wiffle-esc ball, a net that sits 36 inches tall and is played on a 44-by-20-foot court.
“We’ve been playing for 10 years and was introduced to it down in Florida,” Walter McGovern, also of Berkshire Mountain Pickeball, said.”It’s an easy game to play and you get good exercise out of it. I played a lot of racket ball so once i started to hit the pickle ball it just got us right away. I didn’t think we would like it this much at first.”
In the early days Berkshire Mountain Pickleball, which now has an email list that includes over 140 locals, was played at the Dalton CRA about twice a week. As the game started to grow in Berkshire County, the city of Pittsfield had lined the outside courts at Herberg and Reed to accommodate the pickleballers, allowing play year-round.
Berkshire Mountain Pickleball is focused on helping anyone interested dive into the unique sport and giving them a helping hand is Sherry Scheer, a professor and the coordinator of the Physical Fitness Degree and Certificate Programs for 37 years at Berkshire Community College.
Scheer, who has played tennis since college, has won 39 medals, including 29 golds, since she first picked up a paddle three years ago.
“I was at a tennis facility and I saw people with paddles and this type of wiffle ball,” Scheer said. “They told me to come out to the court and try it. Once I started playing and realized a lot of the skills were similar to tennis I had so much fun and it was so much easier on my body.”
Pickleball, much like tennis, uses a rating system to identify a player’s skill level. Scheer, who is a 5.0 tennis player, self-rated herself as a 4.0 in pickleball, but quickly realized she was much better than she thought. The scale for pickleball starts at a 2.0 (beginner) and ends at 6.0 (professionals).
“I didn’t even know how to keep score, but I was asked by an advanced player to go to the U.S. Open in my first year,” Scheer said. “We almost reached the quarterfinals and I thought maybe I am not really a 4.0. I started winning golds and they jumped me from a 4.0 to a 5.0 in women’s doubles.”
In just a few short years Scheer has filled a case with all her medals, but what originally attracted her to the sport is what lured the McGoverns — the camaraderie.
“I was having so much fun with the social aspect that I didn’t realize there was so many tournaments at the advanced levels,” Scheer said. “I thought it was a fun game but had no idea as a beginner that you can play in all these sanctioned, unsanctioned and local tournaments throughout the world.”
Shortly after discovering the game, Scheer implemented it at BCC. with the basketball courts being lined to support the game. Over the last three years Scheer has hosted plenty of clinics at BCC where plenty of Berkshire Mountain pickle ball members are in attendance.
“About a year ago I was able to get my certification to become a certified instructor,” Scheer said. “I believed in the programs and I started offering clinics. People started to come up for me asking for private lessons and before I knew it my entire summer was booked solid with all those activities and people calling me. I never thought it could be a full time job and something I could enjoy.”
When the spring semester comes to a close Scheer is retiring from Berkshire Community College and will focus on teaching beginner, intermediate, and advanced clinics in Cap Cod as a full-time job. Along with teaching, Scheer is also a pickleball ambassador.
As an ambassador, her job is to help locals became part of the pickleball community with information on where to play, how to play, and to connect those interested in playing with groups like Berkshire Mountain Pickleball to help the sport continue its growth.
While Berkshire Mountain Pickleball is currently focused on obtaining dedicated courts — the city of Pittsfield is ready to execute a $350,000 facility at Springside Park — the long term goal is to give everyone an opportunity to play.
“One of the main goals is to get the kids a program so they could keep playing in the summer time (and not just in physical education during school),” Walter McGovern said. “We would love to get that going and build from that so we can grow the sport even more.”
Not only are they focused on kids, but dedicated courts give anyone the opportunity, no matter their time commitments, a chance to strike, dink, or serve on the court.
“It’s not just for seniors,” Walter McGovern explained. “Anyone can play it and we want to build the different programs for kids and even people who work can get out and come play the game.”
For those looking to locate their local ambassadors or just find more information about pickleball, head to USAPA.org.
Jake Mendel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @JMendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.