A kosher sport - Coeur d'Alene Press: Sports

A kosher sport

Pickleball 'a fun game and good exercise'

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Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - A sport for all ages, it's becoming the fastest growing for players ages 55 and up.

And no matter what your skill level is, all you have to do is check in and expect to have a ton of fun.

The sport of pickleball is being introduced to the area, with free lessons being offered on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. at Northshire Park, located on Atlas and Nezperce in Coeur d'Alene.

Two years ago, Coeur d'Alene native Mike Bowers had never heard of pickleball, nor did he ever think he'd play the game, created on Bainbridge Island near Seattle in 1965.

It wasn't until a vacation to the Palm Springs area that Bowers was introduced to the world of pickleball, a game that he now helps teach in Coeur d'Alene.

"They play it quite a bit down there," Bowers said. "It was mostly seniors, but mainly mature adults playing - although kids play it too. I didn't know anything about it until I went on vacation to the Palm Springs valley."

Since starting the clinics, Bowers has also met a lot of different players that have grown interested in the sport.

"I've been finding more and more mid-age adults that have played it," Bowers said. "When we started playing in 2008, the most complicated thing to learn was the score."

The court, which is smaller than the size of a tennis court, allows players to compete in a confined area, along with a no-volley zone in front of the net.

"It's a fun game and good exercise," Bowers said. "And you don't have to run yourself to death doing it either. Once people are exposed to it - they have fun and want to keep playing it."

Coeur d'Alene Parks and Recreation converted a tennis court to a temporary pickleball court, with the possibility of others being added if interest continues to grow.

"The parks department had a meeting and decided to give it a try," Bowers said. "We've converted one court with temporary lines. If we continue to get enough people, we'll look to turn it into a permanent pickleball court. As it is right now, we've got temporary poles that are held in place by 150 pounds of concrete. Due to the fact they're not secured, we've got to take the nets down at night. If people want to play, they should be able to play."

Pickleball is played with wooden paddles, along with a Wiffle ball on both indoor hardwood gym floors, as well as outdoors on a tennis surface. Games are played to 11, with points only being earned on the serve.

The court is 20x44 feet, with a 7-foot no-volley zone in front of the net identified as the "kitchen."

"The court size is about the same size as a two-car garage," Bowers said.

With the different texture of the tennis court to pavement, Bowers added that balls get scuffs on them, but hardly ever crack.

"There hasn't been any problems whatsoever with the ball on an outside court," Bowers said. "That's where we learned on a tennis court. We play with a different ball outside than inside. The ball inside has more holes than the one we use outside. Those really good players find a way with the scuffs on them to get a good spin on the ball."

Players from the Coeur d'Alene group will travel to StoneRidge Golf Club July 21-22 for a pickleball tournament.

"When we started putting these clinics together, we started getting calls from seeded players in the area," Bowers said. "They let us know about a tournament in Blanchard so it should be a fun time."

Judy Thormahlen of Hayden, who started playing two years ago while spending winters in the Scottsdale, Ariz., area visiting her daughter and grandchildren.

"This is a big sport down there," Thormahlen said. "You walk onto a court and play two or three hours of round robin. With all the players down there, you can end up playing all morning."

Thormahlen added that she enjoys the laid-back atmosphere of the sport.

"It's like tennis, but not as strenuous," Thormahlen said. "It's a very beginner level, but it's a bunch of fun. The camaraderie is what keeps me coming back."

Thormahlen added she's shared the court with some talented players from California and Arizona.

"I've played with some national winners down there," Thormahlen said. "There's a lot of good players in that area."

The club in Arizona that Thormahlen plays in has 300 players. The club in Coeur d'Alene has anywhere from 12 to 16 players in the early stages.

"Our goal is to have 50 people," Bowers said. "But if we can get over 150 people showing up to play, that's even better."

When showing up for lessons, participants sign in and start playing almost immediately.

No matter what the score is, they never stop having fun.

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