Pickleball: a cross between several sports, and a hit with boomers

Move over, ALTA. Seniors are competing for court time to play their new favorite sport: pickleball.

They’re shortening the court, lowering the net and having fun volleying a yellow plastic ball with what looks like pingpong paddles on steroids.

Baby boomers can’t get enough of this fast-trending racket sport with a funny name that combines tennis, badminton and table tennis.

Joe and Peg O’Toole, of Norcross, first heard of pickleball three years ago when Peg’s sister from Texas explained the game with a you’ve-got-to-try-it passion. They did and were hooked.

The O’Tooles became pickleball ambassadors, helping to expand playing opportunities in the metro area. While other major cities with large senior populations were already pickleball crazy, Atlanta was slower to catch on.

As ambassadors, the O’Tooles found it more beneficial to demonstrate the game rather than try to explain it. At times, they would mark off a court with painter’s tape, put up a net and invite the curious to come play. Because of their efforts, pickleball is now offered at several YMCAs, area parks and recreation facilities, among others.

Randy Rose, 72, of east Cobb, first heard of the game about a year ago when visiting relatives near Boston. After returning home, he found a seniors pickleball group playing at the East Roswell Recreation Center. “That first night, I sat out in the parking lot reading about it on my phone before I went in,” he said.

Now, he is the one encouraging newcomers to give it a try and teaching them the nuances of the game.

“The one thing I’ll say about pickleball, it’s addicting,” Rose said.

Pickleball appeals to baby boomers because it is both competitive and social, and it’s easy to learn, seniors say.

“It appeals to people who’ve played sports. It’s not over exerting, but it gives you a good workout,” said Ann French, one of the Roswell pickleball players.

And for Atlanta’s vast tennis community, pickleball is similar but easier on your body, said Peg O’Toole.

The court is smaller and the ball slower. Also, games are shorter — first to reach 11 points wins. And you can just show up and play. No making reservations or choosing partners.

Playing helps improve reflexes, hand-eye coordination and brain power, seniors say. Shot selection is key in pickleball.

Seniors are proving their mettle in the sport, too. At a recent YMCA tournament in Peachtree Corners, an 80-year-old with a shoulder replacement won first place, beating out adults half his age.

John and Judy Stanton of Roswell, both longtime tennis players, enjoy the fellowship and competitiveness of pickleball. They pleaded with the Roswell Recreation and Parks Department to add the sport to its offerings because there were no opportunities for them to play nearby.

Peg O’Toole believes Atlanta is a little behind the curve in pickleball courts because tennis is so popular in the metro area. “Nobody wants to convert their tennis courts,” she said.

The O’Tooles are giving up their ambassador titles here and moving to Texas to be closer to family. But they’re not giving up the sport. They selected their new home in large part because it had an active pickleball group and lots of courts.

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