A unique sport that you’ve probably never heard of is taking senior citizen communities across the country by storm. That sport, a careful amalgamation of tennis, ping-pong and badminton, is pickleball, and one such player’s community thrives right here in Rockwall, Texas.
Pickleball is a two- to four-person game played on a court similar to a tennis court, but much smaller in size – in fact, two full-sized pickleball courts can fit on one standard tennis court. The players are restricted from moving too close to the net, which bisects the court, by a zone called the “kitchen.”
From there, the similarities to ping-pong become more apparent. With a small plastic paddle, players take turns hitting a wiffle ball back and forth, taking care not to let it bounce more than once on their side of the court or to hit it out of bounds on their opponent’s side.
“It’s an incredibly fun sport, and it’s really gaining popularity among senior communities” said Rockwall pickleball player Michael Rasmussen. “Even some elementary schools are starting to get their kids to play, because it’s so much fun and so easy to pick up, and very few supplies are needed.”
According to Rasmussen, other than the net, paddles, and whiffle balls, no special equipment or clothing is required – just a smile, a sportsmanlike attitude, and a good pair of tennis shoes.
“Seniors really gravitate towards it because it keeps them active without being too hard on the knees or hips” Rasmussen said, citing the court’s small size as the major contributing factor to the sports ease on players’ joints. “Our oldest player here is 92, and he plays nearly every time we meet during the week.”
John Figliulo, the 92 year-old player, and his wife, Evelyn Harrill, are two of the group’s most active members, so much so that they each have an area named after them at the group’s pickleball gathering with corresponding vinyl banners to signify them.
“Over here we have ‘Evelyn’s Kitchen,’” Rasmussen said, motioning to a banner that said the same. “Evelyn is a big stickler about staying out of the ‘kitchen’ area of the court, so we had the sign made up for her.”
Figliulo, not to be left out of the fun, had his own area – a rest spot on the side of the courts – named “John’s Bar,” which Rasmussen said was due to John’s eagerness to enjoy a glass of wine when the group is done playing.
According to John, the group’s biggest issue at the moment is just having the space to play.
“The (Rockwall Indoor Sports Expo) here has been really generous with letting us play three times a week, but we’re already nearing our capacity here,” said Rasmussen. The pickleball games last Monday were occupying all but one of the available courts.
“We’d really like the Rockwall Parks Department to consider adding lines for pickleball courts to any future tennis court projects, or even existing courts,” Rasmussen said. “We’ve reached out to them about it before, but it isn’t exactly high on their priority list. Our hope is that they’ll realize how popular the sport is becoming, especially among seniors and children, and that they’ll help us out.”
The Rockwall pickleball group meets every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the R.I.S.E (2922 SH 205), with Fridays starting a little earlier at 9:30 a.m., for optional beginner’s lessons.