Pick a weekday morning and you’ll find them at the HUB Sports Center playing up a storm.
The huge Spokane Valley sports facility is home to any number of activities, from top-level club volleyball and basketball tournaments to martial arts tournaments and Zumba.
But one sport has developed a big following, especially among, shall we say, more mature athletes: pickleball.
Pickleball is a racquet sport played with a solid paddle and a wiffle ball – it’s sort of like tennis played at the speed of badminton.
It takes a pretty good whack to get the ball over the net with amount of pace, so players don’t need to check their swing in order to keep the ball on the court.
And like a good tennis match, the point often comes down to bang-bang play at the net.
“We had a couple firemen playing each other in singles just this morning,” Executive Director Phil Champlin said. “We even have a 96-year-old player who comes in twice a week.
“This game does a nice job of helping you maintain good balance without taking a pounding on your joints the way some sports can. There’s no real pressure on any of your joints.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the game has caught on. After all, it was invented on Bainbridge Island in 1965 for former Lt. Gov. Joel Pritchard.
The story goes that Pritchard came home from a golf game and found his friends and family bored one Saturday afternoon. His attempt to drum up a game of badminton was thwarted by the fact that, well, no one could remember where they left the shuttlecocks.
So they improvised. They lowered the badminton net, grabbed a wiffle ball and fashioned some paddles out of plywood.
And a sport was born.
That name? According to Joan Pritchard, Joel’s wife, the name was inspired by the term “pickle boat,” given to the last fishing boat to return to port with its catch. The legend the game was named after Pickles, the family dog, sounds good but overlooks a significant fact, she claims.
“Pickles wasn’t on the scene for two more years,” she’s quoted as saying. “The dog was named for the game.”
Played with much of the same rules as tennis, the game requires good hand-eye coordination but the kind of running needed to play tennis.
Over the years the actual ball grew a little more substantial to withstand the constant battering and the plywood paddles have gone significantly more hi-tech.
“These paddles are a composite material, and they’re made by a local company, Selkirk,” Champlin said. “They actually come in here and let people try out racquets to find one they like.
“It’s really popular. There are a couple facilities in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene that have put in outdoor courts and a good number of people come here to play in the morning and then head over there to play in the afternoon.”
Champlin said the number of players at a given session goes up over the winter, when the number of alternative forms of exercise dwindle. But there remains a healthy number of players out anytime there’s a session.
“The people who play pickleball are very welcoming of new players and encourage newcomers to try the game,” he said. “We have a few players that we’re designated as ambassadors who help monitor the courts and make sure everything runs smoothly.”
The HUB hosts pickleball tournaments and puts on a clinic on the second Wednesday of every month for beginners. Players are encouraged to drop in and give the sport a try.
A complete list of pickleball sessions is available on the center’s website: www.hubsportscenter.org.
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