Calendar Challenge: Can we talk about pickleball?

Allie Kenney, Curt Cetrulo, Doug Kenney, and Carol Shilakes do the "Pickle Pump." — Photo by Jenny Klion

The Times will occasionally feature reports from the field by readers experiencing events or classes we’ve listed. Recently arrived from New York, new Times contributor Jenny Klion decided to try her luck with pickleball. Seen an event listed that you’d like to try? Write us at calendar@mvtimes.com.

Still sore from the ballroom dancing lesson I attended last week, and still affected by my meditation experiment, I decided to go for a more all-around type of challenge this week. So after a review of the Times’ event listings, plus a good-natured prodding from my editor, I took a Saturday-morning bus to the YMCA, with the proper footwear in tow — sneakers! — to check out the curious sport known as pickleball.

Pickleball, according to Wikipedia, “shares features of other racquet sports, the dimensions and layout of a badminton court, and a net and rules similar to tennis, with a few modifications.” The game certainly seemed like a hybrid of tennis, badminton, and Ping-Pong, though it’s actually scored more like volleyball, where you don’t win the point unless you’re the server.

Also, despite my ignorance, apparently pickleball is not new to the country, or the Island; they’ve been playing at the high school here for 25 years. The exact origin of the sport is somewhat in dispute, but the generally agreed-upon story is that the game started in the Seattle area, with a grandfather and his grandchildren. They were looking for some fun, had all the fixings for a badminton game, but not a proper shuttlecock. So they substituted a wiffle ball, lowered the net, and had their dog Pickles play ball boy.

Last Saturday I attended a game filled with over a dozen players, each patiently waiting for a turn to play. But none seemed new to the sport, and many had their own professional pickleball racquets. One enthusiast, Harry Sauter, the resident pickleball rules expert, plays three times a week in Sandwich. He and several others had once been avid tennis players, but are now keeping their competitive edge by playing pickleball.

The game is great for any age group, as it improves overall balance and hand-eye coordination. Plus the low-impact aerobic workout is particularly useful for an older crowd, though none of this was a deterrent for 14-year-old Allie Kenney, a summer resident, who let her athleticism and seemingly strong tennis skills shine on the court. Accompanied by her uncle, Doug Kenney, she definitely beat him, hands down. I think it was Doug, though, who spontaneously coined the phrase “pickle pump,” which describes the pickleball racquet “fist pump,” in honor of a game well played.

I joined in a short game of doubles myself, but suddenly forgot I wasn’t in New York City anymore, as I caught myself swearing when I misjudged a ball, or let one fly by, or hit one out of bounds. But I remembered to focus and breathe, reminding myself of my mindfulness meditation training, and kept it family-friendly from then on.

I also had to remember to stay out of “the kitchen,” which is the area seven feet deep, and a court’s width long, on either side of the net. In general, I have no trouble staying out of the kitchen, particularly when it comes to cleaning. In the case of pickleball, though, I forgot about my aversion to the cookhouse, and continued to foul myself by stepping into it.

All in all, it was an enjoyable morning spent with a chummy group devoted to the trendy sport. The Island game is facilitated by YMCA’s Ray Whitaker, and organized by Curt Cetrulo, who spends off-season time in Florida, also playing pickleball. He loaned me his racquet, and was supportive of my attempts to participate in the fun, overlooking my pickleball weaknesses.

“Sorry!” I kept telling my doubles partner, Pat Bolles, every time I lost us a point, or the serve, or busted into the kitchen. Her response? “There is no sorry in pickleball …” I know she was happy, though, when we ultimately won.

Martha’s Vineyard pickleball, on the YMCA basketball court, Oak Bluffs. Wednesday and Saturday mornings, 9:30–noon. First-time players free, then $5 per play for non-YMCA members. Contact Ray Whitaker for more information at 508-696-7171 or Valerie Hart at 774-563-8204 or valeriehart@aol.com.