Pickleball Serves Up Great Fun

A little tennis, a little badminton, a little ping pong — this paddle sport is growing in popularity
Writer: Mary Ellison

Photographer: August Selckmann

If you have not already heard of pickleball, you may want to investigate it further.
Pickleball, in the words of player Joyce Danaher, is “a combination of ping pong and tennis played on a small court with a special whiffle and a paddle.” And the sport is steadily becoming more popular everywhere, including right here in Southern Maryland.
The idea of a new sport to learn can sometimes be daunting, but pickleball is not like that.
“Anyone who has played tennis is automatically pretty skilled at pickleball right from the start,” player Paula Coxon says. “The rules are different. A paddle is used instead of a racquet, a whiffle ball instead of a tennis ball, a smaller court and lower net, but most of the skills are identical.”
Linda Vallandingham says that as the sport becomes more and more available and familiar to people, it is becoming more and more attractive for people to play.
“It requires a little bit of equipment and a place to play, and you’re all set to begin,” she says.
The sport began in Washington state and now seems to be moving across the country with lots of play in Florida, Vallandingham says.
In St. Mary’s County, a few years ago there were some key people who talked it up and championed it through the county parks department and office on aging, player Judy Free says.
“They were always recruiting prospective players and spreading the joy,” she says. “Now, all players who enjoy the athletic and social aspects of the game are natural active recruiters. It’s become a huge circle of new friends.”
Clearly, pickleball has been a gateway for both athletic activity and social interaction.
Anyone can play pickleball, but it is becoming especially popular among senior citizens because of the way its low-skill floor and high-skill ceiling allow essentially anyone interested to be able to play.
“All types of people play pickleball. From young to old, the game can be played at a high-skill level. And unlike a lot of sports, pickleball has been introduced to senior citizens who never heard of the game before, and they quickly become adept to its challenges,” Jim Downey says.
“All ages and abilities play pickleball,” Cindy Daugherty adds. “It also offers seniors the opportunity to play at their level of capability. It gives the opportunity, for all who play, to get exercise and to stay mobile as we age. It allows social interaction and builds friendships.”

The uniqueness and versatility of pickleball also seems to bring in many players.
“It is a very high-intensity sport, constantly moving,” Carol Spatz says. “There isn’t any time to rest your brain. You don’t have to be good at it to play. There are different levels of playing.”
There are pickleball leagues in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, as the sport has become available through each county’s recreation departments.
“Our population is aging but our seniors are far more active than the previous generation,” Paula Ropshaw says.
“Also, there are so many opportunities to play as pickup games are offered almost every day at churches, school gyms and local parks who have pickleball courts,” Joyce Danaher says. “The SOMD pickleball email group is a great way to share the pickleball news and connect with others who want to play.”
“It’s been great fun learning a completely different sport than I had ever done,” Becki Wolf says. “I’m more of a hiker, so when I manage to connect with the ball, I feel a surge of ‘Yes, I can still learn!’”

Those interested can reach the SOMD Pickleball group at somdpickleball@gmail.com.
The Calvert County Parks and Recreation Department offers lessons and clinics during the year. Information can be found at calvertcountymd.gov. CCPR offers leagues for competitive players. Outdoor courts can be found at Dunkirk District Park, Mt. Hope Community Center, Hallowing Point Park, Cove Point Park and Solomons Town Center. An open gym schedule had been offered a few days a week at the North Beach Recreation Center. Players need to bring their own paddles and balls. For information on schedules and when lessons and open gym sessions might resume, email sports@calvertcountymd.gov or call 410-535-1600, ext. 2649.
The Charles County Recreation and Parks Department offers adult pickleball drop-ins at the Port Tobacco Recreation Center and the Waldorf Senior and Recreational Center. Times vary. All necessary equipment is provided. Go to charlescountyparks.com for more information.
St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks has pickleball courts at John V. Baggett Park, Dorsey Park, Chancellor’s Run Regional Park and 7th District Park. Times and days vary. R&P offers indoor sessions in the late fall and winter. Reach the department at stmarysmd.com/recreate or call 301-475-4200, ext. 1830. For information about the St. Mary’s Office on Aging pickleball program go to stmarysmd.com/aging or call 301-475-4200.
The Maryland Senior Olympics has moved its pickleball tournament to Nov. 20-23 in Bowie. Go to mdseniorolympics.org for details. •