Copyright 2014 The Pantagraph
NORMAL - Carol Drake loves a variety of sports and regularly played racquetball until foot surgery made the pace a bit challenging.
Drake tried pickleball and was hooked.
"It's slower and it's really fun to play," said Drake, 69, of Bloomington. "You get a good workout without thinking about it."
She and five others play twice a week on a court Four Seasons carved out of its limited space.
"We wanted to bring it to Four Seasons to engage the seniors' group," said Dona Lenz, membership manager. "It's a very social sport. Active seniors love it. It's huge down in Florida."
One Florida retirement village boasts more than 100 courts. According to the USA Pickleball Association, there are more than 100,000 active players in the United States.
Because of the popularity, the Normal Parks and Recreation Department has decided to convert two of the four tennis courts at Ironwood Park into pickleball courts.
Doug Wiggs, assistant director of parks and recreation, said it's a simple process - lower the net and stripe the court differently. The Ironwood Park tennis courts are slated to be resurfaced this summer so the transition will take place then, he said.
But the sport's appeal isn't limited to senior citizens.
Deb Kniery, chairwoman of the Normal Community West High School physical education and health department, said the school has offered it for more than 20 years and the kids love it.
"You can pick up the game quickly," she said. "In two or three lessons you can get to a decent level of play and enjoy the game."
That brings a high success rate for kids, she said, unlike the more challenging game of tennis.
Lenz said the game requires hand-eye coordination and a little agility - something seniors can achieve.
"In tennis, half the time you're chasing a ball," she said. "Pickleball is a slower pace but still active."
Brad Warren of Bloomington learned about it two years ago when he went to a Senior Olympics. At 49, he already was an avid bicyclist and played softball but wanted another sport for winter.
"I was looking at the events and saw pickleball," he said. "I wondered what in the world is pickleball? They were playing inside so I took a look."
He started playing that year and routinely travels to Peoria where the craze has prompted that city to offer numerous pickleball courts both inside and outside.
After three months, Warren played in his first tournament. He thought it was a tournament based on skill level, but it turned out his first match was against a 23-year-old who was ranked fifth in the nation.
Warren said it didn't go well. But it also didn't stop him.
"I try to play a lot when the weather is like this," he said.
He also participates in a lot of tournaments, including ones coming up in May, April, September and November.
Warren said pickleball can be played for fun or competitively, and it's relatively inexpensive. A good racket only costs about $80, but as with many sports, there are less-expensive versions.
Wiggs said the Normal Parks and Recreation Department plans to have some equipment to check out and use on the upcoming Normal courts. The courts will be available on a first-come, first-served basis and if leagues start, they will have first priority.
The Bloomington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department also has jumped on the bandwagon and is offering Introduction to Pickleball from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Pepper Ridge Elementary School gymnasium to gauge interest. The event is free and open to all ages.
- A cross between tennis, pingpong and badminton
- Played on badminton-sized court but with a 36-inch-tall net
- Players use a paddle and a 3-inch plastic whiffle ball
- Can be played as a singles or doubles game
- Usually play to 11 points but the winning team must win by two points
- Players serve with an underhand stroke diagonally to the other side of the net