Some pickleball players wear T-shirts with the letters OCP, which stand for “obsessive compulsive pickleballer.”
They are all ages. All skill levels. All in for fun afternoons at the Sports & Fitness Center at Southeast Christian Church. The game has three requirements: a paddle, a pickleball and a pulse. A cross between ping-pong, badminton and tennis, pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.
One “regular” Southeast pickleballer is 93. Another way past 90, though no one knows for sure exactly how far past.
There is no shame in pickleball. Those who have never played the game are paired with other beginners. It is for those who attend church and those who do not.
Southeast member Dottie Ryan said the game “saved her life.” She is a four-year veteran, picking up a paddle after watching a game.
“I haven’t put a paddle down since,” she said. “I’d been active my whole life, but I’d grown lazy, not doing any kind of exercise for 10 years before I retired. I loved it right away. Players have become my new family. It provides physical activity, friends, family, the whole gamut. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
Some call Evie Whitworth the “queen of pickleball.” She is one of the originals who brought the game to Southeast in 2016.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how many friends I’ve met because of pickleball,” Whitworth said. “We have to keep moving. That’s what pickleball does. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s good for you. What gives me joy is watching people pick it up. It’s great to get out and have fun and meet friends.”
The pickleball schedule at the Sports & Fitness Center now includes lessons on the first and second Monday of the month from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. The gym is set up with eight courts Monday and Friday afternoons. The first pickleball session is free. The rest are just $2.
The sport has come a long way in five years.
One afternoon devoted to pickleball soon became two as 50 now come for the morning session and 40 for the afternoon session. There often are 60 in the prayer circle before matches begin.
Pickleball became part of Stephanie and Josh Daniels’ fitness journey four years ago.
“It’s been life changing for us,” Stephanie Daniels said. “It gave us a new lease on life. When we began, we were invested in eating and watching television. We were 100 pounds overweight and didn’t have friends or activities outside the house. Pickleball motivated and fueled our weight-loss journey.”
Both Stephanie and Josh Daniels lost 100 pounds. They are now certified pickleball trainers with their own business, Pickleball Euphoria, and often use their weight loss story to encourage others.
Daniels said finding a community is one of the best parts of pickleball.
“You might play pickleball with someone who is a sheriff, a surgeon, a school teacher, people who are all ages and stages in life,” she said. “That’s been such a blessing.”
People often ask why the game is called pickleball.
According to the story, it was invented by accident in 1965 when Joel Pritchard and two friends returned from a round of golf to find their children asking for something to do. They began setting up a game of badminton, could not find the shuttlecock, so they improvised with a Whiffle ball. They lowered the badminton net and made paddles of plywood from a nearby shed.
Pickle, the family dog, kept chasing the ball until it was called Pickle’s ball.
What you need to know
>Pickleball courts are set up Mondays and Fridays, 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Sports & Fitness Center at the Blankenbaker Campus.
>Bring a paddle, water and towel (if needed).
>Training/instruction is offered on the first and second Mondays of the month at 11:45 a.m. (recommended for beginners).
>The first class is free. Additional classes are $2.
>For more info, visit the Sports & Fitness tab at www.southeastchristian.org.