EXCHANGE: Pickleball courting growing popularity

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NORMAL, Ill. (AP) - Carol Drake loves a variety of sports and regularly played racquetball until foot surgery made the pace a bit challenging.

Then a couple of years ago she saw a demonstration of pickleball at Four Seasons Health Club. The game is a cross between tennis, badminton and pingpong: The court is the size of a badminton court, players use a paddle that is slightly bigger than a pingpong paddle and the ball is a whiffle ball about the size of a tennis ball. A 3-foot-tall net divides the court.

Drake tried it and was hooked.

“It’s slower and it’s really fun to play,” said Drake, 69, of Bloomington. “You get a good workout without thinking about it.”

She and five others play twice a week on a court Four Seasons carved out of its limited space.

“We wanted to bring it to Four Seasons to engage the seniors’ group,” said Dona Lenz, membership manager. “It’s a very social sport. Active seniors love it. It’s huge down in Florida.”

One Florida retirement village boasts more than 100 courts.

According to the USA Pickleball Association, there are more than 100,000 active players in the United States.

Because of the popularity, the Normal Parks and Recreation Department has decided to convert two of the four tennis courts at Ironwood Park into pickleball courts.

Doug Wiggs, assistant director of parks and recreation, said it’s a simple process - lower the net and stripe the court differently. The Ironwood Park tennis courts are slated to be resurfaced this summer so the transition will take place then, he said.

But the sport’s appeal isn’t limited to senior citizens.

Deb Kniery, chairwoman of the Normal Community West High School physical education and health department, said the school has offered it for more than 20 years and the kids love it.

“You can pick up the game quickly,” she said. “In two or three lessons you can get to a decent level of play and enjoy the game.”

That brings a high success rate for kids, she said, unlike the more challenging game of tennis.

Lenz said the game requires hand-eye coordination and a little agility - something seniors can achieve.

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