Several participate in pickleball at the Lakewood YMCA, where the activity is offered three or four times a week. P-J photo by Jay Young
LAKEWOOD — The sun may have been shining and the temperature pleasant on Friday morning in Lakewood, but you would not have known it by the crowd gathered inside the Family YMCA.
The majority of the tennis courts were full with players of all ages, but tennis was not the game on tap.
No, the dozens of players in attendance were all busy playing pickleball.
“In the past probably 10 years the thing has just exploded across the United States,” YMCA director Tom Anderson said. “It all started (here) with the Battle of The Businesses around eight years ago.”
Pickleball is a tennis-style game that is played on a smaller court surface with paddles in place of racquets and whiffle balls in place of bouncy tennis balls.
The play, which is often doubles, offers a blend between tennis and ping pong due to the hard paddles and short-distance volleying.
The sport may have got its start on Bainbridge Island, Washington at the home of Joel Pritchard in the 1960s, but the real increase in popularity has happened over the past decade or so.
“About 20 years ago when I was teaching at Frewsburg we had a box of stuff with our badminton and tennis racquets,” said Bemus Point native Bob Goold in between games on Friday. “There were these wooden paddles with wiffleballs called pickleball. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what the game was. It was before the Internet. We didn’t do much with it, just used it as a warmup game. About seven or eight years ago Tom put it in the Battle of the Businesses”
Around the same time that pickleball was introduced to the Lakewood YMCA, Goold noticed that a group of Bemus Point natives would return to the area from Florida during the summertime.
They brought the game of pickleball back with them from the South, and would set up games at the Bemus Point Park.
Now you are just as likely to find people playing pickleball in the parks of Bemus Point and Lakewood as you are tennis.
“A beginner comes in to tennis, they have to take lessons for a couple months to be able to even play (competitively),” Anderson said. “Here you can come in and if you have some ability to hit the ball, whether it is table tennis or racquetball, in 10 minutes we can get you playing. You don’t have to chase the ball around as much, the points are quicker.”
In addition to offer players a quicker, more casual style of play pickleball has also become hugely popular amongst senior citizens.
“It’s the fastest growing sport for senior citizens because (many) can’t play tennis anymore if they ever did play,” said the Hon. Joseph Gerace Sr. on Friday.
Now in his 90s, the former New York State Supreme Court Judge is still able to stay active on the pickleball court after a lifetime of enjoying tennis.
“It is an easy game to learn, you can learn it in 20 minutes, not to be an expert, but to play reasonably well,” Gerace said. “It keeps you moving, and that is what we senior citizens need more than anything, something that will keep us moving.”
After picking up the game for himself, Gerace brought a pickleball set to his most recent family reunion. Family members of all ages, many of whom had never played the game, were able to pick up a paddle and be playing competitively in the span of an afternoon.
“For the first time in 50 years, we had a sport that we could all play,” he said. “I brought nets and racquets to the reunion and taught them how to play and they just loved it.”
For more information on pickleball, contact the Lakewood YMCA at 763-0303.
“We do a Tuesday clinic, and then we do open play three or four times a week. There is a two-hour slot and people can come in and play socially,” said YMCA tennis pro Matt Johnson. “There is less movement involved. It is a great sport for seniors to play, but even younger players play singles so it is all ages. Eight to 80 can play.”