Truth be told, I got off on the wrong foot with pickleball.
The first time I heard the word—years ago in a newsroom—I chortled like a fifth grader with flatulence.
“What is it called? Pickleball?” I asked the newsroom clerk who had just edited a calendar listing on a pickleball event.
Is it played with actual pickles? Who, exactly, plays pickleball? Why do I keep saying it out loud? Pickleball. Pickleball. Pickleball.
The calendar listings, the clerk said, were for leagues in retirement communities. There it is. It is a retirement thing—like shuffleboard or water aerobics or golf cart brigades.
“Crazy old people and their crazy games,” I thought, not considering I was two years shy of qualifying for a 55-plus community.
Pickleball started seeping into all corners of Marion County. I am a tennis player, and a year ago I noticed new lines jutting across the tennis courts. Then came the players—an orderly, happy community with jacked-up pingpong paddles and wiffle balls.
Cute sport, I cackled.
As the months went by, I noticed there were more pickleball players on MY tennis courts than there were tennis players. And, oddly, they were not cussing.
They were having fun. To be sure, those happy people with their adorable little paddles included– gulp—people my age and younger.
You know where this is going.
As of Christmas 2022, the Schlenkers are certified pickleball people.
We are part of a growing society with many rules and rituals. We do not just call out the score with two numbers. Nope. That is for suckers with stringed rackets. We properly bellow three numbers before serving with one required bounce on one side and one required bounce on the other side before we rush—but stay out of—the kitchen.
The sound of that paddle hitting that wiffle ball … oh man! Satisfying and strange.
My wife and I now watch professional pickleball matches on TV. My new boss (who is younger than me) is an ordained pickleball ambassador. We study the rules, learn the lingo and tap handles (NEVER tap the business end of the paddle).
In late December, we thought we were getting the hang of it until we noticed a woman staring at us. Capped with a “Pickleball” visor, her outfit screamed purist. She invited us to join the foursome on the next court.
Oh, good golly no! We were just beginners smacking the ball into the net and onto neighboring courts. But the woman would not let up.
“No,” we said again, taken aback by her tone. The next thing we knew, we were wiffle-deep in team play with coven purists.
Turns out, this is part of the pickleball community.
She did not want us to waste any more time playing wrong. Within 10 minutes, we were not as awful and were calling the scores correctly. It was awkward and enlightening.
At that moment we became pickleballers.
Incidentally, we also turned 55 in 2022. I see no correlation, so don’t even start. OS