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A funny name, an addictive game – that’s pickleball


Martha Roper

For some enthusiasts, pickleball is not just a part of their lives it is a way of life.

Martha Roper, 70, fits pickleball into nearly every aspect of her life. She mainly plays in the mornings and tries to limit the number of times she plays to five or six a week. But even watching her two grandchildren during the week doesn’t slow her down. Instead, she put up a net in the driveway of her Manchester home and practices with them.

“I’m pretty much obsessed I think; I’m pretty much addicted,” she said.

Having retired from the Parkway School District where she taught health for 25 years, Roper was looking for another activity after having played tennis for 30 years. She was already familiar with the geometry of the course and hitting groundstrokes and overhead shots, so it was a fairly easy transition for her.

To improve her game even more, Roper watches YouTube videos and takes lessons from a certified trainer, Mike Chapin, a 5.0 USA Pickleball Association-rated player. 

“When I get excited about something, I become a student of it,” Roper said.

She’s been told that at age 70, she plays like she’s 45.

Pickleball was created in the 1960s as a children’s game but has gained in popularity as an adult game in recent years.

The sport contains elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong. It is played on a court with a paddle made of wood or composite materials and a perforated ball like a Wiffle ball. Players serve underhand below the waist and points can only be scored by the serving side. Games of singles or doubles are played to 11 points.

Although pickleball is a sport for all ages and skill levels, it really appeals to retirees and older adults, Stephanie Hardesty, Manchester’s recreation supervisor, said.

“It is less running, less impact and not as hard on the body,” Hardesty said.

Manchester’s Paul A. Schroeder Park, 359 Old Manchester Road, has four pickleball courts with four nets available outside that are accessible anytime.

Dale Grove, 73, is another self-described addict. Still working full-time, he manages to play two to three hours a day, four to five times a week. Having played baseball and football in his younger years before moving on to golf and racquetball, Grove said he has had good hand-eye coordination his whole life. Now, pickleball is his chosen sport, as it better fits his demographics. 

“I like the exercise aspect of it,” he said. “It’s a good workout.”

Even though he’s not as quick and agile as he used to be, he’s still competitive with guys 10 years younger, he said.

Grove, who lives in St. Charles, plays all over the metro area.

“It is one of the few things I do for myself,” Grove said.

Grove, airline pilot turned flight instructor, said when he started playing four years ago it was harder to find a place to play. Now, you can find a pickleball venue in nearly every community. He even plays when he travels to places like the Lake of the Ozarks or Innsbrook Resort.

James Boyd, recreation manager at The Pointe in Ballwin has seen steady growth in the number of pickleball players that visit the recreation center with an increase of 78% after the first year it was offered in 2014. Now, he sees an average of 1,100 players per month. 

To meet the demand, many cities now have dedicated pickleball courts. In addition to six indoor pickleball courts at The Pointe, there are outdoor pickleball courts at Holloway Park and new courts going up in New Ballwin Park.

“I’ve seen huge growth, with the baby boomers coming up,” Boyd said. “One reason it’s taken off [is] people are looking for friends, new acquaintances, their spouses pass away … They get tied in with a large group. It’s a great way to make friends and exercise.”

Pickleball clubs have sprung up that host barbecues, training sessions, holiday parties and round-robin competitions. 

There are websites that keep players informed about places to play and upcoming tournaments. Stlouispickleball.com and placestoplay.org are two sites that list pickleball activities. There’s even a pickleball chat group on Facebook. 

A new site recently started by John Matthews, of Ballwin, is picklrz.com. He hopes it will become a national pickleball site. And why not? The pickleball phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down, just like its enthusiasts. 

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