News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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May 20, 2013

Life-Size Ping Pong: Valley pickleball tourney draws large crowd to Brittlebank Park

TERRE HAUTE — It’s been described as “ping pong on steroids.”

Some people call it “life-size ping pong where you stand on the table.”

But the folks at Brittlebank Park this weekend call it pickleball, and they are wild about the sport.

“It’s an equalizer between ages and genders,” said Kimberly Monte, fitness director at Indiana State University, about what attracts so many people to the game with a silly name. Men and women played together in the mixed doubles competition on Sunday, some players were as young as 16. The oldest was 79.

Since there’s little running involved — just some footwork and swinging a paddle — it’s a low-impact sport that does not lend itself to injuries or over-exertion.

“Probably everybody in their 20s and under have played it in school,” said Deli Stinnett, president of the Greater Terre Haute Pickleball Association, which hosted the weekend tournament at the neighborhood park. “It’s very easy. Very easy to pick up.”

Pickleball is a racquet sport that combines elements of table tennis, badminton and tennis played on a court about the size of a doubles badminton court. It has a low net, and players use a hard paddle and a smaller version of a wiffle ball. It’s a slower game than tennis, invented in 1965 in Washington state by a family that was bored on a Saturday afternoon. The popularity of pickleball has spread across the United States, is growing in Canada, and has made in-roads in India.

“It really takes only two people to play,” said ISU’s Monte, mingling with a lawnchair crowd watching the tournament from the shade, “but then it becomes social. With this group, it’s its own family.”

Indeed, the tournament had a casual atmosphere, with food catered by Steve Morris, an avid pickleball player himself.

“It’s kind of like a family reunion here for us,” Morris said while preparing for an after-lunch competition. While it’s common for the players to load up on fresh fruit and pasta prior to the competition, several people bring their own home-cooked dishes for a pitch-in.

“They love the chicken,” Morris said, “and today we have homemade ice cream and root beer floats.”

He said he first heard about the game from a friend. That was three summers ago, and now he plays frequently in the city park.

“We are gaining new people all the time,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of new young people playing.”

The fifth annual pickleball tournament hosted by the GTHPA brought in competitors from Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and all over Indiana. Competition began Friday with about 20 people playing singles. It continued Saturday with about 80 people playing men’s and women’s doubles. And it wrapped up Sunday with about 50 people playing mixed doubles.

GTHPA president Stinnett said local enthusiasm for pickleball has grown to more than 150 members locally.

Six pickleball courts are available in Brittlebank Park, located along 20th Street a few blocks south of Hulman Street.

Indoor play is also available at Booker T. Washington School, Indiana State University and the Vigo County YMCA.

The paddles are said to be inexpensive and are available at local sporting goods stores.

Several area businesses sponsored the tournament, and on Saturday the players had mid-day entertainment — music performed by the Coon Holler Kids. The young musicians with a bluegrass sound are taught by Judy Green of Clinton, herself a pickleball enthusiast.

When asked what is the best part about the weekend event, Monte was quick to answer.

“Bragging rights,” she said. “And there’s some ‘hardware’ attached to tournaments.”

Stinnett encourages everyone to give the sport a try. Play occurs daily at the park from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 5:30 p.m. until dark on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

“Just bring your body,” Stinnett said. “We’ll have paddles and balls.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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