Pickleball Pops Up at Sherwood

The Tennis-Like Sport Continues to Grow in DC

A game of pickleball challenges new players to the game at the recreation center Dec. 17.  

Lace up a pair of gym shoes, pull on some sweat pants or shorts and head over to the Sherwood Recreation Center for a weekly pick up game of pickleball. From 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday on the 600 block of 10th Street NE, players of all ages and ability levels can join in on a game hosted by DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) for free.

On a rainy Thursday in December, pickleball regulars met on the Sherwood gym floor for a chance to learn a new sport. One woman struggled to master the underhand serve, so player Karyn Baiorunos offered pointers. She started playing a year ago in Northern Virginia and now volunteers at DC’s games.

DPR director Keith Anderson stopped by to see the new addition to DPR’s activities and declared he wished he’d worn sweats to join in the game. He said DPR offers the game at three locations. All the pickleball programs are at capacity.

“Pickleball has taken DPR by storm,” Anderson said. “It’s popular with folks from eight to 80.”

People spent the session on that Thursday laughing and sharing skills with each other. No one expressed aggravation with their own playing or others. But then pickleball is aboutis defintiely a low-stress game, said Helen White, mid-Atlantic region district ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA).

“It’s like golf without the frustration,” she said. “It’s fun — it’s fun fitness.”

White started playing the game four years ago. She introduced it to more than 100 areas and over 1,000 people, including in Falls Church, Va., Vienna, Va., and DC. She said DC was the last region of the 50 states to pick up the game, and its grown from a game for retirees to a game for all ages.

Games are typically played in doubles and last about 15 minutes. Players win points when serving, which they do underhand, and they score to 11. Players start behind the seven-foot line back from the 34-inch tall net. Each holds a short wooden paddle racquet and they hit balls similar to a wiffle ball. Light touch helps control ball direction.

“It’s a game of hit it smart, not hard,” White said.

Anyone can pick up the game, she added. The strategy and net resemble those of tennis, but the smaller court makes play easier on the joints. 

Scott Parker, lead volunteer for all DC DPR activities, helped start pickleball in DC during the spring of 2014 at the 31st annual DPR Senior Games. It took another year and another successful show at the 2015 Games for organizers to secure seasonal weekly games for three communities.

But they still need help getting the word out to the local community who are unfamiliar with the game.

Pickleball started in 1965 in Seattle as a cross of badminton, tennis and table tennis. The USAPA now organizes games and tournaments in all 50 states.

“It’s great exercise and competitive in a fun way,” Parker said.

Children’s programs commanded much of the recreation centers’ time during the summer months, so DPR started the first pickleball season in September, Parker said. Winter session started in December and runs through May 10.

Right now they serve predominantly retirees, seniors and mother’s at home, but hope to offer evening and weekend hours in the future to attract younger players, too. They play with about 40-45 regulars across all three sites..

DPR funds the games and buys all of the necessary equipment. Community members need to only bring their athletic shoes and clothes. And experienced pickleball players oftn help out as needed, said White.

DRP plans to expand pickleball into Ward 3 for the spring season, said Jeri Ingram, DPR director of tennis and racquet sports. With only six indoor tennis courts and 142 total indoor and outdoor courts, the city must balance demand for several racquet sports.

Pickleball is being offered in the mid-afternoon time slot because basketball and tennis already claimed the coveted evening and weekend times. But she hopes to incorporate more pickleball in the next few years as it appeals to all ages.

“Tennis players who weren’t able to get around the court as well as well as they used to have gravitated to pickleball,” she said.

“We’re excited we are able to offer an affordable sport and activity for our community,” Anderson said.

DPR hosts pickleball games at the Sherwood Recreation Center, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the King Greenleaf Recreation Center on the 200 block of N Street SW and from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Emery Recreation Center on the 5700 block of Georgia Avenue NW. To join, go to www.dpr.dc.gov. Registration is free. 

Jeri Ingram, DC DCPR director of tennis; Scott Parker, DC DCPR lead volunteer coordinator; player Kathleen Grant; Keith Anderson, DC DPR director; Helen White, district ambassador for USAPA; and player Karyn Baiorunos at a Sherwood Recreation Center pickleball game Dec. 17. (Photo Christine Rushton)
Pickleball players take time to learn the game at the Sherwood Recreation Center on Dec. 17.