Pickleball is a popular sport with a funny name and a serious following across the country, including Thurston County.
The over-60 crowd has especially embraced the game, which combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong.
“You can get that heart working and get good exercise for two hours,” said Olympia resident Ron Marcoe, who would enjoy playing with younger pickleballers — if they dare. “Maybe they don’t want to get beat by us old folks.”
Marcoe is a co-organizer of the Olympia Pickleball Group, which meets 8-11 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on the tennis courts at Stevens Field next to Lincoln Elementary School. More than 70 people are on the group’s email list. Newcomers of all ages are welcome.
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About 15 people showed up to play Thursday, including Gig Harbor resident Adrienne Barlow, who explained the aspects of playing pickleball in a wheelchair.
This year, the USA Pickleball Association adopted official rules for wheelchair pickleball with Barlow’s help. She sees an opportunity to introduce millions of disabled Americans to the game. As of June 1, about 68 percent of USAPA members are age 60 and over.
“The sport is officially inclusive,” said Barlow, the Northwest region ambassador for USAPA. “Everyone can participate.”
Barlow first started playing pickleball while standing, but now requires a wheelchair because of a progressive muscle disease. She uses a heavy-duty sport wheelchair with tilted wheels, anti-tipping bars and a seat belt.
In this chair, Barlow can move up to 12 mph and turn with ease. She plays with the paddle taped to her right hand and has no problem giving the competition a good match.
Barlow’s goal is to create a national para-pickleball tournament. At Thursday’s gathering in Olympia, Barlow also advocated for more accessibility at the area’s pickleball courts.
“I want to change perceptions,” Barlow said. “Everybody needs a good outlet.”
Demand is growing for more local pickleball courts. People from the Olympia group regularly travel outside Thurston County to play in Shelton and Lakewood, said Marcoe, who would like to see more options in his hometown.
Local parks departments have recognized the popularity of pickleball, which is played on an area about a third the size of a standard tennis court. Olympia recently restriped the tennis courts to accommodate pickleball at Woodruff Park, 1500 Harrison Ave. NW. There also is an indoor pickleball court at the Olympia Senior Center, 222 Columbia St. NW.
Lacey has a pair of pickleball courts at Wonderwood Park, 5475 45th Ave. SE. Four new pickleball courts at Rainier Vista Community Park will be proposed in the 2016 budget, said Lori Flemm, parks and recreation director.
“It’s competitive, it’s fun, it’s social,” Flemm said of the sport, adding that accessibility for the disabled will be taken into consideration with future courts.
Pickleball was born in 1965 as a summertime boredom buster at the Bainbridge Island home of Joel Pritchard, who served as a congressman and the state’s lieutenant governor.
As the legend goes, Pritchard and two friends set up a badminton net, but lacked a full set of equipment. They improvised with pingpong paddles and a wiffle ball. Eventually, they refined the rules and started playing on asphalt with a lowered net.
Pickleball was intended as a game for the family to play together, according to the USAPA. The game’s name is believed to have come from Pritchard’s cocker spaniel, Pickles, who would chase stray balls.
Another story is that Pritchard’s wife named the sport pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded (her) of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats,” according to the association.