Pickleball: Fast-growing sport extremely popular among Sussex seniors


pickleball cheryl butch martin good one

Cheryl Martin keeps a volley alive during recent pickleball play at courts located at John Clayton Elementary School. Pictured is doubles partner, Butch Martin, president of the First State Pickleball Club.

FRANKFORD – If treadmills, weights, hiking, biking or tennis aren’t your cup of tea, perhaps a fitness craze that’s sweeping the nation might be the answer.

It’s called pickleball, and the sport that blends tennis, ping pong and racquetball on a badminton size court is extremely popular in southern Delaware.

Growing membership in the First State Pickleball Club stood at 212 as August ended.

“We started the club in December,” said Butch Martin, First State Pickleball Club president. “We have accomplished a lot.”

Converted tennis courts at John M. Clayton Elementary School serve as the outdoor arena for club-sponsored classes for all levels, skills/development clinics, ladder league play and local tournaments.

In an agreement with the Indian River School District, pickleball courts are open to the public, except for specific FSPC events where membership is required. Membership fee is $25 a year.

No taxpayer dollars were used in the court transformation as club fundraising and membership volunteerism and labor paved the way for the eight official pickleball courts behind the Clayton school.

“These are the only dedicated pickleball courts on the Eastern Shore,” said Mr. Martin. “The rest of them are lined on tennis courts.”

pickleball logo

Although a growing favorite among Baby Boomers and senior citizens, pickleball – initially popular in California, Arizona and Florida – is played by people young and old.

“It’s caught on with all ages. The younger group likes it too,” said Cheryl Martin, a club member with her husband. “It’s easier on the joints. That’s why it’s so attractive to the senior citizen crowd.”

Marion Lisehora turns 84 this Sept. 19. Chances are her birthday celebration will include a slice or two of pickleball.

“I find somewhere to play almost every single day,” said Ms. Lisehora, a lifelong athlete who has worked in coordinating women’s athletics including Delaware Senior Olympics sports for many years. “I try to work my schedule around so that I can be somewhere every day. I will go as far as Milford Boys and Girls Club. I go south to Ocean Pines; I go west to Seaford, and go east to Lewes. These (Clayton courts) opened in June.”

Like many, Ms. Lisehora became a pickleball addict the moment she grabbed a paddle and took to the court.

Pickleball marion Lisehora 84 in september

Marion Lisehora, who turns 84 this month, is an avid pickleball player.

“I was involved with all of these women’s team sports. And some of the women that were playing had gone to Florida and they had played a little bit of pickleball. They came back and they were trying to drum it up. I couldn’t start playing, because I was teaching and coaching,” said Ms. Lisehora. “Finally the volleyball class I was teaching was over.”

So to a pickleball venue in Lewes she went.

“I went down there one day and that’s all it took. I was totally addicted. Being an athlete … it was just a challenge to me; ‘I can do this,’” said Ms. Lisehora. “The more I did it the more I wanted to do it. The more I did it the better I got. I was almost 80 when I started. And there are very few things that you pick up at that age that you can improve in. Other sports I had played all of my life I was definitely over the top and going down the other way. And then here’s a sport that I’m getting better at and getting better at …”

Besides the physical activity factor, there is a social aspect that often builds friendships.

pickleball mary joe market of bethany

Now fulltime residents of Bethany Beach, Mary and Joe Market are among the Sussex Countians who have taken up the sport of pickleball.

Sussex County retirees Mary and Joe Market, who moved permanently from the Virginia/Washington, D.C. area into their Bethany residence, have made numerous friends, including Cheryl and Butch Martin through pickleball.

“It was also great for us socially because we were new residents to the area,” said Ms. Market. “We have had a beach house. We’d come here in the summer, but you don’t really know people in the summer; because a lot of people are renters. So it was social for us. We met people and we’ve done some social things with the club. We did a murder mystery. We did a triathlon, which was biking, kayaking and pickleball.”

Ms. Martin agrees that the social element is a huge part of pickleball.

“Maybe it’s because you are closer on the court. There is a lot of talk back and forth. You’re laughing along with each other and complimenting each other constantly,” said Ms. Martin, noting the camaraderie with others. “We’ve done a dinner and a magic show. Then we had a picnic in our backyard. We had a birthday party here to celebrate the 50th year. And we did what we call a triathlon … pedal, paddle and paddle.”

That triathlon included bike riding at Cape Henlopen State Park, kayaking in Lewes and after a pit-stop at Dairy Queen for lunch it was back to the Clayton Elementary School courts to play pickleball.

Believe it or not, pickleball has been around for 50 years.

pickleball 50 sign

Pickleball players at a recent tournament hosted by the First State Pickleball Club celebrate the 50th anniversary of pickleball.

According to the USA Pickleball Association website, pickleball was invented in 1965 on an island near Seattle in the state of Washington at the home of State Rep. Joel Pritchard as a solution to their kids’ backyard boredom.

There are conflicting stories on the name.

One story is it is derived from the Pritchard family’s dog, Pickles.

“The ball would go off in the grass. The dog would chase after, get it and bring it back. So they called it pickleball,” said Mr. Martin.

Another story is the name came from the term “pickle boat,” referring to the last boat to return with its catch.

Pickleball popularity is being incorporated in residential development, particularly active senior communities.

Major athletic equipment companies are now manufacturing the equipment – paddles and perforated polymer ball, similar to a wiffleball.

“They see the potential. They see the growth,” said Frank Creamer, co-founder of the Ocean Pines Pickleball Club. “According to the USA Pickleball Association there are 2.5 million people playing pickleball. That just overtook hockey and lacrosse in the United States as far as popularity. And the prediction is by 2018 there will 8 million pickleball players.”

First State Pickleball Club welcomes new members, and invites potential pickleball players to try it out at a free clinic before making any investment commitment.

“They can come out and go through the basics of the game,” said Ms. Martin.

“I was invited by someone I knew in Bethany to go play pickleball. I had no idea what it was. Frank (Creamer) showed me how to play. I went home and said to Joe, ‘I am going to take up pickleball.’ I told him I was buying a paddle. ‘Are you interested?’ He said ‘yes.’ So we ordered two paddles.”

“The nice thing about it is besides the exercise, you are developing a skill. We started in October of November, and I will tell you we were pretty bad when we first started. But the both of us are improving and learning some of the tricks of the game. It can be a pretty fast-moving game,” said Ms. Market.

Three hours of pickleball equates to about 9,151 steps, or 4.2 miles.

“It is great exercise but it is not as strenuous as tennis. From that aspect we liked it,” Ms. Market said.

“I was just looking for some exercise, just to get out and lose a couple pounds,” said Millsboro resident Richard Baum, 53.

Robert Smith, 46, of Ocean Pines started playing several months ago.

“And I am in amourette with it ever since,” Mr. Smith said. “Everybody tries help everybody else out. And my doctor told me I needed to get some exercise.”

Several local pickleball players placed in national competition in Minnesota in July, led by gold medalist Georgia Billger in 74-79 singles.

Cheryl Martin placed second and Diane Milam placed fourth in women’s 50-54 singles, Don Tomb earned silver for second in mixed doubles and men’s doubles and Pearl Morris earned a bronze medal in 50-59 singles.

With autumn next and Old Man Winter on double-deck, local pickleball players find themselves – no pun intended – in a pickle.

“This summer, this is great. But this winter we can only be indoors here (Clayton School) one night or two nights a week. But there are only four courts,” said Ms. Lisehora. “I don’t know what we going to do. We need a big indoor facility.”

“The problem when it’s too cold is the ball cracks,” said Mr. Creamer.

“The biggest problem we have is we need an indoor facility for winter time. We need some indoor places,” said Ms. Martin.

“There is no County recreation,” said Ms. Lisehora. “I live in the town of Millsboro. There is no town recreation.”

For more information on First State Pickleball club, visit the club Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/firststatepickleballclub?fref=ts) or visit the Delaware Pickleball website at http://www.delawarepickleball.com/.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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