Pickleball: Friend or Foe?

Racket sports: we all know them, we all love them, but which one is best? There are many variations of racket sports. There are popular ones such as tennis and ping pong, lesser known titles such as squash and racquetball, and completely obscure ones including such games as “soft tennis,” “platform tennis,” and the Chinese “qianball.” They all are played with a racket or paddle of sorts as well as a ball, yet vary in their use of a wall, what the racket looks like, the number of players, what the court looks like, and pretty much everything else. Within this wide and ever expanding realm of racket sports — or “racquet,” if you’re posh — a new contender has recently risen along with new courts in Berkeley. Its ludicrous name? Pickleball. 

Pickleball is a sport that originated from a mix of badminton and ping pong. It was created by the Pritchard family on their beautiful estate one crisp 1965 fall afternoon when they wanted to play on their badminton court but only had ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball. This ingenious family decided that, although the Wheel of Fortune had spun against their favor, they would persevere and invent a brand new game. That game turned out to be pickleball. There are multiple different origin stories of how the name came to be and  how society learned to laugh at it. Over time the game has developed and grown greatly from its humble estate beginnings. Today it is played with special pickleball paddles — a fun alliteration — and a specially made “pickleball ball,” that is slightly weightier than a wiffle ball. The game takes place on a regulation court of 34 by 63 feet. Unique to pickleball, the court also contains a “no volley zone,” designated by a line behind and in front of the net which stops all players from volleying — hitting the ball before it bounces — when standing in the box. Overall, the gameplay feels very much like a blend of tennis and ping pong, combining the short reaction time and the dull paddles of ping pong with the aerobics and swinging motions of a tennis game. It’s marketed as very “family friendly” and it pulls off this feat due to not being particularly hard to learn or play — this being in stark contrast to many other racket games. 

Zephyr Wells, a Berkeley High School (BHS) student in Academic Choice (AC), explained pickleball wonderfully by saying, “It’s like tennis, but fun and for old people.” While whether or not the game is more fun than tennis is up for question, it is certainly known as a sport popular among older generations. In fact, pickleball has picked up a following of old folk as their racket game of choice due to its ease of play and lack of prolonged running and service motions. It happens to be at its most popular in nursing homes and retirement communities where grandmothers and grandfathers are able to frolic joyfully on pickleball courts. Many of these people perhaps used to play other sports, such as the aforementioned tennis, but as they got older they switched to pickleball as their sport of choice. Sam King, a junior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS) who occasionally partakes in a game of pickleball, described why this is true. “Pickleball has a way smaller court than tennis, which makes it much more about technique and ball placement than athleticism,” King said. 

13 percent of the population in Berkeley is above 65 years old, and it was just in the course of due time that this quickly expanding game got its own courts. At the Berkeley courts, however, one will find people of all ages playing this game. Berkeley got its first courts approximately a year ago after the Berkeley City Council allowed the pickleballers to take over a dilapidated and out of use tennis court at Cedar Rose Park, and renovate it into four separate pickleball courts. This was a move widely appreciated by Berkeley pickleballers, who before had been courtless, but was worrisome for the tennis community, which already has a hard enough time finding open courts and does not wish to see more tennis courts taken away. Signs are visible at the Cedar Rose courts from an organization advocating for more local pickleball spaces, although the future of these plans is unclear. If you want to learn more about pickleball you can look it up online for some fascinating and heartwarming stories about the only cucumber-related racket sport. Meanwhile, the courts are waiting.

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