By Martie Thompson
It may have a funny-sounding name, but make no mistake — pickleball brings out the competitive spirit in players. Just ask USA Pickleball Association ambassador and Southside resident, George Catalano.
“When you hear that familiar ‘ping, ping, ping,’ it just makes you want to get out there and play,” he said
The distinctive pinging noise is made when a player’s racquet, which looks like an oversized ping pong paddle, strikes the ball, which is similar to a wiffle ball — plastic with holes in it.
Pickleball may be played indoors or out. In the Southside, indoor games are held on the basketball court at the Brooks Family YMCA using portable nets to fashion three pickleball courts. Similar to tennis, pickleball may be played as singles or doubles, including mixed doubles. Points are scored much like tennis, but teams play to 11 and need to win by two points.
Susan Sanders plays regularly in the pick up games at Brooks. She said one appeal of the sport is that women can play competitively with men.
“It’s not so much about strength as it is about strategy,” she said. “It matters where you hit the ball.”
Catalano said that although the game started on the West Coast, it didn’t take long to come to the East Coast and has now expanded rapidly to nearly every city in Florida. He said there are approximately 100,000 players in the Jacksonville area.
Catalano, who is retired from the US Postal Service and originally from the New York/New Jersey area, first became aware of pickleball about nine years ago when he visited a cousin of his in Ft. Myers. She invited him to try it out, but after double knee replacement, he wasn’t sure if he could participate.
“I played about 20 minutes that first day. The next morning, I felt great, so now I play about six or seven times a week,” he said.
Catalano moved to the Southside in 2009 and said to his knowledge, the first pickleball games in Jacksonville were in the Sweetwater community. The game expanded to the beaches area and then throughout the First Coast.
“Felina Martin was instrumental in starting pickleball at the area YMCAs and games are now played on different days and times at all First Coast YMCAs,” he said.
The sport has enjoyed impressive growth and according to the USA Pickleball Association, nearly 2.5 million people in the US play the game. Catalano said that players even hope it will eventually be an Olympic sport.
Locally, Catalano said that the first Atlantic South Regional Pickleball Tournament will be held at the Prime Osborn Convention Center from March 9 – 12, 2017. This will be a USA Pickleball Association sanctioned tournament and all levels of play, from the beginner 2.0 to expert 5.0 will be represented. Tournament organizers are anticipating 400 players, all of whom must be members of the USA Pickleball Association.
Catalano says everyone can play pickleball and it is not just for seniors. The USA Pickleball Association website (usapa.org) lists all the places to play locally and around the world.
And about the funny name? Accounts of the origin differ, but no pickles are involved. The game’s founders, who invented the game in 1965 so that their entire families could play together, claim it either was named for the pickle boat in crew, (where oarsmen are chosen from the leftovers of other boats) or after a family dog who would chase the ball and run off with it.
To learn more about pickleball, visit usapa.org or contact local USA Pickleball Association ambassador George Catalano at (904) 527-3033. Pick up games on the Southside are held on the basketball court at the Brooks Family YMCA on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2 p.m. — 4 p.m. Players must be members of the YMCA to play. Also, www.pickleballbythesea.com has a comprehensive list of places to play pickleball on the First Coast.
Photos by Martie Thompson
Suzanne Oken, Susan Sanders, George Catalano and Sandy Carlson after a pickleball match.