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New sport of Pickleball appeals to North Georgians

Lanier Villages Estates residents play weekly games

POSTED: November 19, 2013 1:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Residents of Lanier Village Estates use their tennis to play a new game that is catching on across the country. Pickleball combines elements of tennis, ping-pong, on a badminton-sized court. Players use special paddles and whiffle balls which takes a strong swing to send the ball over the net.

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A new sport is sweeping across senior communities and public gyms in North Georgia. The game pickleball, akin to tennis and badminton, frequently attracts seniors because of its smaller courts and greater accessibility.

Lanier Village Estate resident Tory Elliott plays regularly at the retirement community.

“It’s just a good sport, because when you’re old — I’m almost 80 — it keeps you active,” he said. “I play as much as I can, sometimes three or four times a week.”

North Georgia Pickleball Club co-founder Ann Earley explained the game is similar to table tennis but is played on a doubles badminton court. Two or four people use a solid paddle and perforated plastic balls, similar to a whiffle ball to play.

The sport has become the fastest growing senior sport in the country and is the National Senior Games’ newest medal sport.

“Everyone loves this game,” Earley said. “In tennis, people are pretty serious. But in pickleball, you hear people laughing and talking and just having a good time.”

Earley started the club in 2005, with her husband Tom, after converting two tennis courts in their Canton backyard into pickleball courts. Since then, the club has taught more than 200 people from across North Georgia how to play and boasts 80 members who play regularly. The club also has organized annual tournaments benefitting the Cherokee County Humane Society.

“Many places teach pickleball for free, and the learning curve is 20 minutes,” she said. “You can play with your kids, grandkids or friends; anyone can do it.”

Part of the sport’s popularity is because of its accessibility and low cost, Earley said. A pickleball paddle costs about $75 and an entire set, including paddles, balls and a net, can be bought for less than $300. Compared to other sports such as tennis, it is cheaper.

Additionally, the sport’s smaller courts, underhanded serves and “no-volley zones” near the net make the game friendly for the elderly.

“It is easier for us to play. We don’t have to cover as much territory and it less dangerous than tennis,” said Jerry Horack, co-founder of the Lanier Village Estates’ pickleball group. “But it’s also competitive. We’re getting better and better, and we’re getting more people.”

The group at Lanier Village Estates includes numerous members older than 80, and some as old as 90. Others have various disabilities or diseases, such as hip replacements or Parkinson’s disease.

Pickleball was invented by former Washington state Rep. Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell in 1966 to entertain their children. According to legend, the game was named after Pritchard’s dog who picked up stray balls in his mouth and hid them.

However, Pritchard’s wife, Joan, states in a column for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, the dog came after the sport’s inception and was named after it, not the other way around. The name came from “pickle boats” in rowing, which is what you call a boat with a crew made up of the leftovers from other boats, she said.

Pickleball started about a year and a half ago, after Lanier Village Estates resident Anne Crawford was exposed to the game in Florida. Residents embraced it quickly. Many players have their own paddles and the court is rarely empty during the week.

Currently, the group plays on a converted tennis court, but plans are being made to resurface an indoor area for play during bad weather. However, it is open to residents only.

The North Georgia Pickleball Club plays in the Earley’s backyard in Canton. The club will accept new members in the spring.

To join the North Georgia Pickleball Club, call Tom and Ann Earley at 770-401-7355.



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