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Pickleball: New Craze Coming to the YMCA

“May the odds, be ever in your favor.” Has the Hunger Games come to the Rockaways? Not yet. But if you’re looking for excitement, action, and all the visceral competition you can handle, then prepare for Pickleball! The Rockaway YMCA, beginning in January, will begin offering free instructional classes, so that not only members, but all residents can learn to play Pickleball.

“Pickleball can best be described as a combination of tennis, table tennis, racquetball, and badminton, played on a small court a third of the size of a tennis court,” according to Rick Hopkins, Executive Director of the Rockaway YMCA at Arverne By The Sea. As an, ahem, middle-aged gentleman of limited athletic prowess, I wondered how I would fare in such an exciting game. Hopkins alleviated my fears, and told me he was in his 50’s, and he “liked the fact that the game allows fair competition between older adults and younger, more athletic players. This allows older players, players with mobility issues, and those without a sports background to be competitive right away.” Whew!

In what seems to be a high-energy game, he assured me, it was easier than I thought. I imagined a Serena Williams-powered serve, making a fool out of me. Hopkins let me know the serve, for example, is “underhand, not overhand like in tennis. The return of serve must be allowed to bounce before volleying at the net is allowed. This makes sure that the ball gets into play easier and the rallies are longer.” It seems like the excitement of tennis, the ease of badminton, and the accessibility of handball have been mashed up into a brand new craze.

Pickleball all started on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1972, at the home of then, State Representative Joel Pritchard. It seems as Pritchard and two friends returned home from playing golf, found the rest of the families bored to tears, and attempted to play badminton. As luck would have it, the shuttlecocks could not be found. Instead, a Wiffle Ball was used, the nets lowered, and “fabricated paddles of plywood” were used from the family shed. Necessity being the mother of invention, family boredom moved lack of equipment into the realm of sports creation.

How did Hopkins discover this exciting new sport? “I discovered Pickleball years ago when the sport of racquetball began to phase out, and YMCAs and health clubs were no longer building courts due to other programmatic demands. In fact, even though I was an avid racquetball player, I, at the risk of being called a traitor, converted several racquetball courts into weight rooms and exercise studios because the demand among members was much higher for those activities. A racquetball friend of mine told me about Pickleball, and invited me to play with him. I was hooked instantly. It was easy to learn and fun to play.”

Pickleball is a game for anyone. “While our initial focus is on active older adults, good candidates for Pickleball also include tennis players, racquetball players, paddleball players, or anyone who wants a fun, easy-to-learn sport that will get them moving while also providing a social element. Men can play with women, old can play with young — this is the uniqueness and genius of Pickleball. Over the last couple of years we have inquired with almost any group or organization associated with the Y about their interest in Pickleball; most have never heard of it. We even ran an ad in the local papers asking for people interested in playing Pickleball to contact the Y… crickets! After monitoring the success at the Staten Island Y, we decided to give it a shot.”

Hopkins is excited to bring the sport to the local area. “I think this is a great sport for YMCA members and Rockaway residents because it fits right in with the Rockaway Y’s focus on providing healthy living choices for active older adults, and for those who are currently inactive who would like to change that as well. Recent demographic studies show that, among New York City YMCAs, Staten Island and the Rockaways serve the largest senior populations, as well as have the highest obesity and lowest fitness levels in the five boroughs. In the Rockaway Y’s less than four year history, we have continually strived to introduce new programs and services that meet the needs and desires of our members and the community.”

During the month of January, the Rockaway Y will begin offering free instructional classes so that members and community residents can learn how to play the game. You don’t have to be a member of the Y to learn. They allow three free guest passes to community residents that will not only allow them to learn Pickleball, but also to enjoy other amenities such as two swimming pools, a state-of-the-art Fitness Center, group exercise classes and a full-sized gymnasium. Regular classes, open court time and challenge play could begin as early as February.

Pickleball could be the next big trend in school gyms. It’s a sport that seems ripe for an addition to public school activities and sport teams. Addressing this commonality, Hopkins said, “We are going to take Pickleball ‘inter-generational’ by offering it at our Beacon Program operated out of PS/MS 43 in Far Rockaway. A Beacon is a school that transforms into a community center during after school hours and on weekends. We will be teaching young and old how to play the game. I see Pickleball as being ‘the next big thing’ to hit the Rockaways in terms of getting us up and moving while having fun, whether you prefer the competitive or social aspects of the sport.”

See you on the courts, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

To find out more about Pickleball coming to the Rockaway YMCA (207 Beach 73rd Street), call 718-215-6950.

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