Pickleball may have a funny name, but it's serious play

It’s a game that appears to be a cross between tennis and ping pong with a funny name: pickleball.

Played on a court with a low net, paddles are used to hit a hollow plastic yellow ball. The game can be played in pairs or singles.

In Williamsburg, the game has become popular with a group of retirees who play weekdays at Quarterpath Recreation Center.

In addition to Quarterpath, there are courts at James City Country Recreation Center, Veterans Park and Jamestown High School all offering open play at various times.

Most people play in mixed doubles at the open play. People come at various times, with some staying the entire time. There is also open play on select Saturdays.

Williamsburg and James City County are making a name among pickleball players. The city plays host to three yearly tournaments which draw about 150 players from Virginia Beach, Richmond and Northern Virginia, according to Tyler Cobb, deputy director of Williamsburg Parks and Recreation.

“It’s becoming a national trend and gaining popularity,” he said.

Williamsburg resident Jeff Anthony is an ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association’s Eastern District. The retired Army helicopter aviator established a website, pickleburg.com, to provide local information about the game he calls “addictive.”

For the past seven years, he has played three to five times a week. His wife, Sandy, also plays.

He believes the game is popular because the rules are simple.

Anthony used to play tennis, but when he discovered pickleball, he said “it was like a shiny new penny.”

He is so enthusiastic that he gives free lessons and coaches players. Anthony also shares the game at James City County youth camps.

The Hampton High School graduate said it is a way to maintain an active life as well as have a social outlet.

Belinda and Ran Fowlkes play about three times a week. They discovered the game while vacationing in the Bahamas.

“That is when we drank the pickle juice,” Belinda Fowlkes said laughing. She told her younger sister about it and now she plays as well.

Both in their 60s, the Fowlkeses like the exercise and social aspect. The former Virginia Beach residents play together in mix-doubles tournaments. To improve their game, they watch videos on YouTube.

When asked if they ever disagree about each other’s methods after they play a round, Ran said “we gently discuss it.”

For more information about area pickleball, visit pickleburg.com.

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