Pickleball growing in popularity among all ages

By JOHN McBRYDE / Brentwood Home Page

When it comes to staying young, 85-year-old Joe Tiratto has a simple philosophy.

“You don’t play pickleball because you’re too old,” the Franklin resident mused recently. “You get too old because you don’t play pickleball.”

“You don’t play pickleball because you’re too old,” the Franklin resident mused recently. “You get too old because you don’t play pickleball.”

That is one way to sum up an increasingly popular game that can best be described as tennis meets badminton meets Ping Pong, with a little whiffle ball thrown in for good measure.  Pickleball (more on the “pickle” part later) came to the area by way of the Tennessee Senior Olympics, which is where Tiratto and many of his peers learned about the sport and started playing it about three years ago.

Tiratto, as it turned out, took to the game right away. He earned gold and silver medals in singles and doubles of pickleball competition at the Senior Games held this summer in Williamson County. He medaled in 10 other events as well, and Tiratto said it was his pickleball play that gave him the endurance to perform so well in the games.

“It keeps all the parts moving,” he said, “and that keeps you healthy and young.”

Others are apparently agreeing with Tiratto’s claims about the health benefits of pickleball, not to mention the entertainment value. The Williamson County Parks and Recreation is hosting open pickleball play at its Franklin Recreation Complex a couple of days a week, as well as at other locations in the county, and courts are getting crowded.

“We’re seeing more and more people who are hearing about the sport and wanting to play,” said Gary Hathcock, athletic administrator for WCPR. “It’s mostly seniors because they were the ones who started playing it when it was introduced at the Senior Olympics, but there is a mixture of all ages.”

A recent Tuesday night at the Franklin Complex saw several people waiting for one of three courts to open for doubles competition. Tiratto was there, as was Jim Cunningham, 70, who is the Franklin ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association. Among other seniors, there were also players as young as 17 to just about every age range.

“We’re finding more and more people in their 20’s and 30’s wanting to play,” Cunningham said. “Our goal is to get pickleball in every little community.”

For a sport that has such an unusual name and isn’t exactly a staple of ESPN programming, pickleball “has been around longer than what you might think,” said Clay Cooper, facility manager for the Franklin Recreation Complex.

In the summer of 1965, a congressman from the state of Washington named Joel Pritchard wanted to get his family involved in a yard game. He couldn’t find enough rackets or birdies for badminton, so he improvised by making some oversized table tennis paddles and using whiffle balls. He lowered the badminton nets, established some rules, and soon the Pritchards were playing pickleball.

About the name: The family had a dog named Pickles who would retrieve the ball when it went astray, and thus it became Pickle’s ball.

For those interested in learning more about the sport and giving it a try, the Franklin Recreation Complex has open play Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings. Paddles and balls are provided, though many players have their own paddles. Call 790-5719 for more information.

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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