By Marty Budner
ECCENTRIC STAFF WRITER
There is a group of senior athletes in Royal Oak who will tell you there's nothing sweeter than a good game of pickleball.
“It's fast-paced, and you're laughing. It's not like tennis where you're serious. You don't even know you're exercising, which is even better,” says 67-year-old Pat Sullivan, a retired Royal Oak resident who is given credit for introducing the fast-growing sport into the Royal Oak Parks and Recreation program. “It's a good addiction because you can find enjoyment so fast, and it's fun, so why not go out and have some fun.”
Pickleball is nearly as easy to understand as it is to play.
It is a combination of tennis and table tennis contested on a badminton court. The game is played with a baseball-sized whiffle ball and wooden composite ping-pong style paddles. It can be played as singles or doubles, indoors or outdoors. Strength is not a factor, so men and women play on an equal playing field as ability is the only measurement.
Every Monday and Wednesday during the mid-day hours, the Jack and Patti Salter Community Center in Royal Oak is bustling with the slapping sounds of the ball hitting the paddle and the whistling sounds of tennis shoes sliding across the gym floor.
The Monday session attracts close to 20 people and the Wednesday session around 16. The bottom line for all the participants is they get some exercise playing a sport they enjoy in a relaxed atmosphere.
“It's very friendly and competitive, and you get a good work out, You can see everyone in here sweating,” says Bruce Castle, a 63-year-old Royal Oak resident while taking a break between games. “It's a very easy game to pick up, especially if you've played some racquet sports before. Some people who have never played anything have done very well at it. A lot of people laugh at it because it's called pickleball, but once they see it and play it, they really like it,” he says.
Like tennis, the idea is to serve and volley the ball over the net. The serve must go to the opposite side of the court and land in a designated area. The ball is volleyed back-and-forth until a point is won.
One main difference is players cannot approach the net and slam a return shot on the fly. An approximate six-foot wide area exists on each side of the net, and it is illegal for players to hit from that so-called ‘kitchen' zone without the ball bouncing first. If so, the other player or team wins the point.
In doubles, both players on a team must serve before the other team takes over. Like tennis and table tennis, points are earned on serves only.
“I retired about three years ago from Chrysler, and I was looking for something I would enjoy doing that would give me exercise,” says Mike Simoni, a 62-year-old Royal Oak resident who learned about the game via a recreation brochure published by the city. “I considered volleyball and ping pong, and I saw this thing called pickleball. I had never heard of it before...they said it was new on the paper that I read. So I said I wanted to go and try that. It happened to be the first thing I tried, and I really enjoyed it. It gave me everything that I was looking for and I've met so many good people,” he says. “It's a friendly atmosphere, but it can get pretty competitive. I like that competition. And it's good exercise. I love it. I really do. It's addictive.”
Sullivan learned the sport at her retirement community in Sun City Grand, Arizona - a place she calls the ‘Pickleball Heaven' of the U.S. - and brought it to Royal Oak two years ago. It has become a staple activity on the senior program menu.
The sport's popularity has resulted in the creation of a new senior league called the Southeastern Michigan Pickle League (SEMPL). The league is divided into the East Division (Royal Oak, Troy and Rochester) and the West Division (Hartland, Waterford and Northville).
The sport, which has a national website http://usapa.org/ , has become one of the more widely-contested events in the Michigan Senior Olympics recently held in Rochester. The City of Royal Oak is even considering building eight outdoor pickleball-only courts.
“You can play and get a good game going without a whole lot of instruction, as long as you have some hand-eye coordination,” says Sullivan, who currently teaches the sport to both young and old as part of the Royal Oak recreation program. “The sport is just getting bigger and bigger.”
Mirror - Royal Oak, MI
MSO PICKLEBALL Silver Medal Winners
Donna Clancy (Royal Oak) and Sandford Simons (Royal Oak)
MSO MX Doubles 60-64 - Photo From MX09 By Stan Wilson, Jr