Pickleball Craze is Sweeping Florida
Written by PickleBall.net
April 08, 2013
Pete Patterson calls pickleball "a wonderful, positive addiction" — one that has many Florida seniors in its grip.
The 67-year-old Patterson teaches pickleball, a game similar to badminton that's popular with older people who are looking for something more exciting than shuffleboard. His students in Lake County usually experience some weight loss and an increase in endurance from playing pickleball. He noted one energetic pupil of his.
"He's 91 years of age, and he plays like he's in his 60s," said Patterson, whose wife, Joanne, 66, also teaches the sport. "He is remarkable. I want to be like him when I grow up."
The game is usually played with a wooden paddle and a sturdier version of a perforated whiffle ball on a court one-third the size of a tennis court. Players often double up, which means even less ground to cover.
In The Villages, Pickleball's popularity has grown to the point that the giant retirement community has 108 courts. More than 300 Villages residents signed up for the community's Senior Games pickleball competition April 18-20.
Advocates say the sport appeals to people who still have tennis in their hearts, if not in their limbs. But don't get the idea it's a leisurely sport. Patterson, who lives in the Plantation at Leesburg retirement community, said pickleball requires "hand-eye coordination, sportsmanship and extreme cardiovascular exercise, much more so than tennis."
Pickleball reportedly was invented in 1965 near Seattle by three children looking to play a variation of badminton. Their dog's name was Pickle, and because he had an affinity for the ball, pickleball was born.
The game is also growing in South Florida, where pickleball is filling empty roller-hockey rinks that dot area parks. No one gets body-checked in pickleball, and speedy skaters have been replaced by white-haired folks who often wear knee braces.
"Roller hockey has kind of died off, so we'll give pickleball a shot," said Joe Fazekas, recreation manager for Oakland Park.
South Florida municipalities built roller-hockey rinks shortly after hockey exploded. In 1996, the Florida Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup final, and kids took to the four ice rinks in the area, then found a palatable substitute in playing the game wearing inline skates. Since then, the Panthers have faltered. The team's playoff appearance in 2012 was its first in 12 years. Perhaps as a result of the team's troubles, interest in roller hockey is cratering.
"Everybody I've talked to is trying to find another use for their courts," said Don Decker, Weston's park and recreation director and past president of the Florida Recreation and Park Association.
In Lake County, Patterson said that once participants get comfortable with the sport, they can "take it to the next level" by signing up for pickleball tournaments across the state. The four pickleball courts at the Palatlakaha Environmental Agricultural Research (PEAR) Park, where the Pattersons teach, stay crowded five days a week, he said.
"It's taking off," he said. "It is a wonderful form of exercise, communication, social fulfillment and personal rewards."
He said the sport can be enjoyed by young and old, but that learning to play has lasting value.
"You're not going to play football all your life," he said. "You can play pickleball all your life."