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The Power of Pickleball: Growing sport promotes fun, fitness and friendship
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The Power of Pickleball: Growing sport promotes fun, fitness and friendship

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No doubt about it. This pickleball thing is becoming a big dill in Lincoln.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Actually, no pickles are used (or harmed) in the sport, which is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. The Seattle family that created the game in 1965 had a dog named Pickles who loved to chase the balls, and that’s the story that has gained the most traction as far as the name of the game.

Pickleball provides great exercise, and the sport is growing like crazy in Lincoln, as I found out on a recent Tuesday evening at Peterson Park. The courts near 22nd and Highway 2 were packed as I learned the rules from regulars Gale Breed, Dorothy Matzke and Bill Roehrs, who is the Lincoln district ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association.

“Pickleball is easy to learn, played on a court one-third the size of a tennis court, and fun to play,” Roehrs said. “The motto for Pickleball Lincoln is ‘Fun, Fitness and Friendship,’ and that is exactly what it is.”

I also found it easy to learn with my three talented instructors showing great patience with the rookie. Since there is not as much ground to cover as in tennis, it really is for everyone.

Matzke, at 85, did not hesitate to show me a thing or two at Peterson Park. She is a pro.

“Pickleball is so much fun that I never even think of it as exercise, but it can be a very good cardio workout,” she said. “The fellowship has meant so much to me since my husband (Stan) died. I've met over 100 new friends through pickleball.

“There's no need to find a partner or a foursome. I can just show up, drop in and play.”

There were 175 pickleball players in the Cornhusker State Games. To keep up with demand for courts, Pickleball Lincoln Inc. is behind the effort to expand at Peterson Park. Four additional courts are in the works thanks to a successful Give to Lincoln Day campaign that raised more than $87,000. The goal was $80,000.

Roehrs, 72, is a retired music teacher who took over as district ambassador in March. In that role, he hopes to add ambassadors for other Nebraska communities and to “develop a statewide feeling of pickleball camaraderie.”

One of the many reasons he loves the sport is that it’s a little kinder to aching joints.

“I have played racquet sports all my life,” he said. “After my shoulder replacement it seemed prudent to find a sport that was less stressful on my shoulder, and pickleball filled that desire.

“I have never been around a sport that meets the needs of so many people of all age groups and ability levels. Many people who have had joint replacements, like me, find pickleball to be a sport that works for them.”

A pickleball paddle generally costs between $30 and $100, although top-of-the-line paddles can go for as much as $150. The balls are plastic with holes, a little like a Wiffle ball. They are about $3. My new pickleball friends suggested Racquet Corner (3119 O St.) as a good place to start when looking for equipment and advice.

How much does Breed, 71, love the game? Let him count the ways.

“First and foremost, pickleball is fun to play and increases your physical activity and positive social interaction,” Breed said. “You laugh more and make great new friends while burning calories, as a player can burn from 300-950 per hour of play.

“It's intergenerational with players ages 6 to 86. Parents and children and grandparents and grandchildren can all play together.

“Finally, Pickleball brings people together in a positive, active environment for fun, fitness and friendship.”

Want to give pickleball a try? Send an email to Bill Roehrs at wroehrs@me.com or visit www.pickleballlincoln.com.

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