Pickleball picking up local steam

First Chillicothe tournament Oct. 9 drew 16 players

By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor
The two Simpson Park tennis courts in Chillicothe accommodate four of the smaller-dimension pickleball courts during the Chillicothe Pickleball Association’s inaugural tournament Oct. 9.

By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor

A “new” hybrid sport actually dating back to the 1960s seems to have gained a toehold in Chillicothe with local enthusiasts anxious to grow their numbers and expand their playing options.

Pickleball – played with a hard-plastic ball somewhat akin to a wiffle ball (but with far-smaller holes to make it aerodynamically fly truer and faster) –  is part tennis, part ping-pong (table tennis), part badminton.

Played on a court a few feet narrower in width than tennis’ singles boundaries and much shorter in length (20-feet wide, 44-feet long), the reduced in-bounds area places less movement demands on players, making it more-amenable as a recreational sport to those with some “miles” on them, while also offering enough physical and skill challenge to invite a more-serious level of competition, if desired.

In Chillicothe, the lightly-used tennis courts at Simpson Park, immediately east of Chilli Bay waterpark, have segued into the site of relatively-steady use as a pickleball venue over the past couple of years.

In October, the growing group of participants, collectively having formed the Chillicothe Pickleball Association, hosted a sponsored 16-players, double-elimination-format men's doubles tournament and 4-players women's tourney at the park site (using temporary markings and portable nets to create three courts). The top three teams among the eight received prizes provided by the sponsors – Murray’s Buffet and Grill, Blackwater Restaurant, Hy-Vee Food Store, and Jersey’s Sports Grill.

“Our group started this summer with a handful of guys, but we now have over 25 men and women in our Facebook group and often have three courts set up to accommodate play,” association spokesman Duke Worthington reports. “We currently play Tuesday and Thursday evenings and early Saturday morning, as well as a Sunday evening mixed (couples) group.

“As the weather cools off we'll move into Cornerstone Church's gym, where three courts are lined for play. Another exciting opportunity is the forming of league play at the (Grand River Area Family YMCA) this winter,” he continued, expressing thanks to the church and pastor Aaron Douglas for allowing use of the multi-purpose facility.

While organized play among the general public is only now taking some hold locally, Worthington notes now-retired Chillicothe High School physical education teacher Phil Willard taught pickleball in PE classes for many years.

“So it's been around this area quite a while, but is finally gaining traction,” the association rep reflects. “It's a fun social outlet for youngsters all the way to retirees.”

The association plans to have representatives at this month’s meeting (this Monday) of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board to share information on the growth in participation in the sport among locals with, potentially, an eye toward possible conversion of at least one of the Simpson Park tennis courts to two pickleball courts.

While similar to tennis or ping-pong, in terms of many of its shots across a low net, pickleball – first devised by a trio of fathers in 1965 when their children grew bored with their summertime activities on an island just of the coast from Seattle, Wash. – also has many of its own peccadilloes.

Equipment-wise, the plastic ball is struck with a more-rectangular-shaped paddle with rounded top corners (now largely constructed in somewhat webbed manner with lightweight, composite materials such as aluminum and graphite with a solid outer covering), rather than either the rounder, stringed racquet of tennis or small-faced, rubber-coated paddle of ping-pong.

Additionally, the smaller court has something of an inverted layout, compared to tennis, a layout which includes some positioning restrictions.

The layout and dimensions of a pickleball court

Where a tennis court has a 2-section “service box” extending halfway toward the baseline on each side of the net, into which the oncoming serve must land, a pickleball court has – for seven feet on each side of the net – what is called a “no-volley zone” (NVZ), nicknamed “the kitchen.” As the formal name implies, a player may not make a volley (shot on a yet-to-bounce ball) from that near-net area; doing so is a “fault,” ending that rally.

Additionally, it is a “fault” if a player either enters or steps on the lines outlining the NVZ in the process of making a volley or, due to momentum, does so after making a volley. The restriction does not apply when making a groundstroke (hitting a ball after it has bounced).

Whereas tennis and ping-pong allow for a skilled, aggressive, high-velocity serve to potentially dictate a point from its start, in pickleball, both the serve and first return are regulated. Both must be allowed to land/bounce (they cannot be volleyed) to foster development of an extended rally, rather than a quick, 1- or 2-stroke spurt of action.

Unlike tennis, a serve touching the NVZ line as it lands is “out,” rather than good

In singles matches, when the server loses a rally, the serve goes to the opponent. In doubles, each team’s first server continues to serve until the opponent wins a rally; then the other player on the serving side serves until the receiving team wins another rally, at which time the right to serve goes to the receivers. Points are accrued only when serving.

A game routinely lasts until one player/duo has amassed 11 points with a lead of at least two, although for more-competitive/formal play, the total required can be expanded to 15 or 21.

As in tennis, in tracking the score, prior to each serve, the server calls his/his team’s points total, followed by the opponent’s points total. However, in pickleball doubles, since both players on the team get a chance to serve on each service opportunity, a third number is called, indicating whether it is the team’s initial server of that serving sequence or second. Only after the second server loses a rally does service switch to the other tandem.

Champions of the inaugural Chillicothe Pickleball Association doubles tournament Oct. 9 were Ron Keith (top left) and Kyle Chastain (top right). Runnersup were Tristan Biswell (right, foreground) and Roy Yeomans (second from right, foreground). Third place was claimed by Jon Maples (left, foreground) and Brad Heins (second from left, foreground). Eight men’s teams and two women’s competed in separate gender divisions.

Additional information on pickleball specifics are plentifully available through online searches or other research means.

For persons interested in becoming involved with the Chillicothe enthusiasts’ play, the local group has a Facebook page or Worthington can be reached via email at coachdukew@gmail.com.