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Sour-named game

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Published:   |   Updated: June 28, 2013 at 11:37 AM

BROOKSVILLE - Just don't call it tennis.

The lovers of the sport of pickleball wouldn't relish it.

Two or three times a week, about 24 "regulars" don shorts and light shirts, hit the courts at High Point off State Road 50, but not to hit a tennis ball over the net.

Rather, they plop their sports bags on one of the courtside tables outside and take out their whiffle balls and oversized paddles.

They take their positions behind one of the newly refurbished court nets by the High Point Clubhouse and begin their game of pickleball.

It seems so many people have become addicted to the game that High Point management spent some $24,000 to transform one of the two tennis courts into four Pickleball courts.

"There are more pickleball players now than tennis players," said Katie Russell, recreation director with the High Point Property Owners Association. The refurbishment included painting the fence, resurfacing and removing a pesky dip in the ground.

There's about 25 pickleball players in High Point who meet regularly for matches.

And its adherents adamantly defend the name, the sport and cringe when someone laughs.

Andy Anderson of High Point says more people are taking the game seriously.

"It's pretty addictive," says Anderson, who plays about two or three times a week.

It's also less strenuous, which appeals to seniors who like the feel of tennis but don't like the movement of the faster-paced alternative.

Andersen, who became a pickleballer two years ago, said some people stared at him and his fellow players when they started. But, once they learned about the sport, they too took it up and became converts to the game with the sour name.

And because of this new rage, which some have called a cross between badminton and tennis, the county is considering adding more such Pickleball courts in downtown Hernando Park.

Hernando County Recreation Coordinator Harry Johnson visited the new High Point courts Monday morning and was impressed.

He plans to come before county commissioners with a proposal in a couple months to restripe two of the existing tennis courts at Hernando Park in downtown Brooksville to accommodate pickleballers.

About 24 of them approached him recently for courts downtown, so the interest is there, Johnson said.

Many Brooksville players are traveling to High Point to play and that community can only take so many, Johnson said. Other communities, including Timber Pines, have private courts and are off limits to non-residents, he said.

Johnson stressed it wouldn't be a full refurbishing, as at High Point. Tennis players could still use the Pickleball courts by removing the striping because the net will not be lowered.

Think pickleball is a passing fad limited to Florida?

Think again.

In April, thousands of people traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., to attend the first-ever "Super Pickleball Weekend."

For two days, enthusiasts and the curious took part in free pickleball demonstrations and exhibition matches. Sponsored by the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), there were men, women and mixed doubles matches.

The USAPA calls pickleball the fastest growing court sport in North America.

Pickleball is also cheaper than tennis. Spend about $12 for a paddle and a buck for the ball and you're set.

Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court, roughly 20' x 44, according to www.pickleball .com.

The ball is served diagonally (starting with the right-hand service-square), and points can only be scored by the side that serves, the site says.

Players on each side must let the ball bounce once before volleys are allowed, and there is a 7-foot, no-volley zone on each side of the net, to prevent "spiking." The server continues to serve, alternating service courts, until he or she faults. The first side scoring 11 points and leading by at least two points wins.

As with tennis, the game can be played with singles or doubles.

Gary Burgess says pickleball transcends all ages and genders and is not only for seniors with limited mobility.

"There are high schools that are starting teams," Burgess said. "The younger kids really pick it up fast."

John Henn, 86, proudly wears the shirt "Old School Pickleball" as he picked up his racquet Monday morning and made his way out to the High Point court.

Henn had played tennis most of his life but caught the "pickle craze" two years ago.

"I like it better than tennis," said the native Detroiter. "I never thought I'd say that, but I do."

The games, he said, are faster and shorter.

Henn said his love for the game rubbed off on his seven children, all of whom play pickleball.

Often, players from other communities, drive to High Point and join up for a match or two early in the mornings when the heat is tolerable.

Ruth Austin typically hits the Pickleball court twice a week to play and converse with friends.

"I was a tennis player for years and years," she said. "I had to quit that and I like this as much as tennis."

Betty Winiecki began playing four years ago and never looked back. Some people may not be convinced of the fun yet, but that doesn't matter to her.

"I never played tennis," Winiecki says. "What is that? I know people will say, 'Oh, (pickleball) is for old people.' I say, come and see for yourself."

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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