Pickleball is a hot game among island seniors
Even a pandemic hasn’t gotten in the way of America’s love for pickleball. Although this sport has been around for decades, it seems to be gaining momentum, especially among active seniors like those who reside in Pine Island Cove.
Tom Vales, Susan Seabrook, Bob Ray, and Lori Smith are just a few of many residents who meet on the court each morning for a few friendly games.
The history of the sport is debatable, according to the players, who say the name was derived either from a dog named Pickle, who often stole the game ball, or it is simply a mash-up of the many games with which it shares a commonality, such as tennis, ping pong, and badminton.
“I think down here in Florida, it has become extremely popular among retirees at least in the past ten years,” Seabrook said. “It’s something that anybody can play at any age.”
Seabrook said she got hooked after friends tried to get her to play for some time and although she played softball and golf, she initially had no interest in pickleball, but eventually relented, becoming a regular on the court and even joining in tournaments.
“Some of the best pickleball players I’ve met are people who played tennis or handball when they were younger and now that they’re retired they play pickleball,” Seabrook said. “A lot of the people in this community are in their late 70s and 80s playing this game.”
She admitted a big draw is the natural camaraderie among the players.
“Even the people I met doing this at home have become my best friends.” Seabrook said Smith is one of the toughest players she’s seen, calling her a “beast” when it comes to her skill level on the court. Smith said the court they use at Pine Island Cove was originally a shuffleboard court.
“The men’s club made it into a pickleball court and then we painted it, and we’ve been raising money for a second pickleball court,” Smith said. “It’s a great game–it’s super social. In high season we’ll have 30 or so pickleballers. We probably get 16 or so out here every morning.”
She explained that this is the reason they need another court, saying with 16 players, you only get to play every four games. When she first began playing Smith said they used chalk outlines to make a court, and they played in various places until finally the powers that be decided there should be a court in Pine Island Cove.
“Pickleball has been around for a while,” said Smith, a former teacher. “It’s just not as popular with the high school kids as it is with seniors. It’s the new tennis, because tennis takes so much more energy and so much more aerobics.”
She said the National Pickleball Championships are held in Naples, where there are sizeable courts. Although Smith said she’s not been involved thus far in a competition of that magnitude, they do run smaller tournaments here on the island in Pine Island Cove.
To anyone thinking they may want to play, or have never even thought about playing, Smith said, “Try it. As much as it’s fun, addictive, and athletic, it’s social. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about having a really good game.”