If it's Tuesday, it must be pickleball — at least for a fun-loving group of women who meet at the Churchville Recreation Center in Harford County. The group started about five years ago, and members play indoors during the school year and outdoors in the summer or whenever they can.
We met them on a beautiful June morning to see just why the heck this thing called pickleball gets them so fired up.
It's a little like tennis and pingpong and a lot like badminton. It's played on a badminton-style court but the net is a lot lower – 34 inches at center. The ball is like a wiffle ball, smaller than a softball. You play with a paddle that might be wood but is probably some sort of composite with a fiberglass shell. (Get them online for about $55 at thepickleballmall.com, say the ladies). The Churchville women play doubles — two on each side of the court. It's scored a little like tennis (game goes to 11 points and you have to win by two), but you serve underhand and the ball has to hit the ground first on each side before anyone can start volleying. And there's a no-volley zone near the net called "the kitchen."
The game was started by a Washington state senator who wanted an organized activity his whole family could play — even his dog (yes, Pickles!) got in on the action by chasing the balls. Today, the game is popular with seniors and middle-schoolers, says Maureen Mills, who contacted The Baltimore Sun and asked us to come watch the fun.
"There are about 13 of us who rotate in and out of the group," says Mills. "We're mostly retired educators. Other people play at the senior centers in Bel Air and Fallston, but those groups tend to be more competitive. We play mainly to keep moving, enjoy each other's company and have some laughs."
Laughter seems to be the glue that keeps this group together. Carol Greimel takes a swing and misses the ball, then laughs and says she's been doing this for years "and I still can't play!" But play, they all can. The balls volley back and forth, fast and furious. "It's competitive," says Bev Hibschman, who was sidelined with a pickleball rotator-cuff injury, "but there's no pressure."
The only real pressure:
The hardest thing about pickleball seems to be remembering who last served and what the score is. "One of these days I'm going to remember who served what!" one of the women calls out across the court at a particularly confusing moment.
Why they do it:
"It gives us a chance to move and know that we still have some motor skills left at our age," says Mills with a laugh. They others chime in: "We have a good time!" And, of course, "We laugh a lot!"
Who's on the roster:
Judy Bailey, Patty Bailey, Diane Burch, Rene Doyle, Marty Elliot, Jane Gevecker-Mello, Peggy Gordon, Carol Greimel, Bev Hibschman, Diane Jones, Ruth Mager, Maureen Mills, Sue Parker, Joan Reekie, Pat Wallace