A sport that has taken Florida by storm has arrived in Warwick thanks to a group of snowbirds.
On Monday morning, seven players showed up at the Mickey Stevens tennis courts to play pickleball.
The newest member of the group, Mother of Congressman James Langevin, June Langevin, played for her first time. She likes the game because she finds it less wearing than tennis.
“It’s fun,” Langevin said. “It’s easier on the knees. I like to play tennis, but it takes a lot out of your knees.”
pickleball, a racquet sport, is similar to badminton, tennis and table tennis. It is played using a paddle and a “Wiffle” type ball. Ninety-five percent of the time, it is played as a doubles match.
pickleball is played on a court that is about half the size of a tennis court. The sport is a favorite of seniors because it has less exertion and the games go more quickly. pickleball alleviates some of the running that is done while playing tennis because the court is smaller.
When a player serves, they hit the ball underhand, and it has to bounce once in the opposite square diagonal from where it was served like in tennis. Once the ball is returned, from then on you can hit it in the air. The only way you can get a point is on the serve. So as long as you keep on getting points, you keep on serving. The first team that gets to 11 wins the game. Unlike tennis, the games are relatively short, which is one of the reasons the seniors like it.
Art Sulmasy, a snowbird who lives in The Villages in Florida in the winter says pickleball is very popular down south.
“Down in The Villages we have six courts going and there could be as many as 18 people standing on the side waiting to get in,” Art Sulmasy said. “As soon as a game is completed, four people from the line would walk on.”
The Villages are advertised as a retirement community. They are located in Sumter County, Florida and home to about 110,000 residents. Sulmasy expects that number to grow to 130,000 soon. The Villages is located 60 miles north of Orlando.
Because the court is small, Nancy, wife of Art Sulmasy, says pickleball is more of a net game.
“It’s very fast,” she said. “It’s fun. I was a tennis player and I gave tennis up for this, and it’s starting to outweigh golf in The Villages in Florida.”
Ted Weller, who was playing Monday, rents a place in Florida during the winter. He has taken up the game and is looking to get more Warwick players.
“There are 110 pickleball courts there,” Weller said of the Villages. “It’s very big down there. It’s also a place with 48 golf courses. It’s a place to stay active.”
For now, when the seniors want to play pickleball in Warwick, they have to use measuring tape and chalk to mark off the courts before they play. However, Art Sulmasy says that if they can get enough of a following Michael Rooney, Deputy Director Parks and Recreation, will dedicate two of the tennis courts to pickleball.
“Mickey had said that if we get enough of a following, he would take two courts back there, repair them and make permanent marks,” Sulmasy said.
For now, they’ll have to measure the courts out and line them with chalk every time they play.
“They’ll wash away in the rain, but I would think that the outline after one week would still be here and we wouldn’t have to measure if off, we could just fill it in,” Sulmasy said.
The seniors enjoy the sport and want others in the area to join. The players are willing to teach anyone who is interested. They encourage players to bring their own paddles, but they have a few spares for anyone who wants to try it before buying their own.
Art says in The Villages the pickleball courts are about 20 times more popular than the tennis courts.
“You’ll see four people on the tennis courts and 24 on the pickleball courts,” Sulmasy said.
According to Art, almost every retirement community in Florida now has a pickleball court somewhere.
“Every recreation center, every place where there is a tennis court, there are at least four, if not six pickleball courts,” Sulmasy said.
There are two or three other retirement communities in the vicinity of The Villages so they hold local tournaments at The Villages. Also every December there are the Senior Games in Florida, which attract people from all over the region. There are two or three other retirement communities in the vicinity of The Villages and there local tournaments would go on.
The sport is growing popular all over the country, especially in warm weather spots like Washington and Arizona. The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), the highest governing body of pickleball (holds national tournaments and The Villages is trying to host one because they consider themselves a place that more people play pickleball than any place else. Art says he has some friends in the Albany area that chalk of the courts, too.
“Any place where retired people are going to fly over for the winter and back in is pushing to do just what we’re doing,” Sulmasy said. “It’s the exact same thing. You have to prove to people that there’s a group of people willing to play and want to.”
Sulmasy’s hope is that the courts would be permanently set up and people could come anytime they want. As of now, they are playing at 9:30 a.m. on Monday mornings and encourage people of all ages to sign up and play.
Until then, Sulmasy will have to hope the chalk on the courts doesn’t wash away in the rain.