In his mid-fifties, my lawyer, Steve, had a heart attack that "scared the life into him", as he said. He realized lying in the hospital that the stress of arguing with people about huge sums of money all day was literally going to kill him. It nearly had. So, he ditched it all and moved with his wife into a retirement village planning to do absolutely nothing. Which he did, for about a month. But Steve was not designed for idleness and soon he was back on the attack and back on defense, having discovered another court in which to fight -- the win-at-all-costs, high-stakes world of Pickleball.
He tolerated my stupid jokes (the name contains both 'pickle' and 'ball' and I have the sense of humor of a ten-year-old boy) and explained, in excited detail, the rules and nuances of the great game. I cannot say I was intrigued. I told him that the whole retirement village thing -- the community college courses, the golf carts, the Mahjong -- sounded to me like Day Camp for grown-ups. And this GerkinSphere game sounded like some kind of cardio-intense shuffleboard, the kind of thing that only a few hyper-competitive retirees would ever be interested in. I was very wrong.
Pickleball, I have since learned, began as all great sports begin - with a deep and troubling bout of boredom. One Saturday afternoon in 1965, some dudes (it's always dudes) named Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum had just finished a round of golf and were, somehow, already bored. So bored in fact, that they actually decided to play badminton. But they lacked a shuttlecock, so they used a wiffleball instead. And when the badminton rackets weren't good for hitting a wiffleball (because nothing is), they grabbed some scraps of plywood and whacked it around with those. And that's all they did. That's the whole game. These guys were so desperate for competition that they thought it would be a good idea to play ping pong, tennis, wiffleball and badminton all at the same time. Which, apparently, lots of other people wanted to do, too.
It first took hold among the old folk. But in the 2000's, Pickleball escaped the senior centers and RV parks and found its way into public recreation centers and schools. Today there is a United States Amateur Pickleball Association and an International Federation of Pickleball that represent some 1800 Pickleballers. Part of this growth is because it's cheap - you can convert a tennis court into a Pickleball court with some tape, plus Pickleball gear (a wiffleball and two paddles) costs about 30 bucks. Part of the appeal, too, is that it's simple to play and understand. And it helps that the level of intensity of the workout is determined by the fitness and intensity of the players, so almost anyone can have a good game. And, of course, there's the terminology. Not to be outdone by games with words like 'wiffle' and 'shuttlecock', Pickleball has a shot called an Erne and a zone called 'the Kitchen', which you are apparently not allowed to enter. Even I have to admit, that sounds kind of fun.
So, though I won't ever golf-cart off to that great Grown-Up Day Camp in the desert, I have noticed that there's a Pickleball court about a mile and a half from my house...
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