WATCH: Tennis, fitness centers combine to offer pickleball

Video by: Caitie McMekin & Words by: Collin Hanner

Though not played with actual pickles, or involving pickles in any capacity, pickleball will debut in Chautauqua through an inaugural program from the Chautauqua Tennis Center.

Matthew Johnson, a Lakewood resident and a student at Berry College in Georgia, is a staff member at the Tennis Center and the pickleball coordinator at Chautauqua Institution. While working at the Lakewood YMCA, Johnson was introduced to the game and fell in love with it while playing with seniors.

“The atmosphere is much like tennis,” Johnson said. “It’s a really good lifelong sport to play.”

Though tennis courts can be converted into pickleball courts, the pickleball program takes place on the Turner fitness center hardwood gym floor, where tape is laid down to recreate an official pickleball court. Two adjoining courts are used during the hour-and-a-half-long sessions, usually one for instruction and one for competitive play.   

Pickleball is played as fusion of tennis, pingpong and badminton. An official pickleball court most closely resembles a badminton court with a 20-by-44-foot playing area. It is split into a left and right service area at the court’s centerline, which is utilized when doubles matches are played.

Players hit a whiffle ball back and forth. They must let the ball bounce on each side before they are allowed to volley, though players are not allowed to volley to each other from either side within 7 feet of the net, which stands 3 feet tall.

Equipment, which includes a slightly larger pingpong paddle and a whiffle ball, is provided for players. Depending on the number of sign-ups each day, sessions usually result in singles and doubles matches. Players can pay a $12 fee at the tennis center to take part in the 1 p.m. class. 

Helen White, who is the mid-Atlantic district ambassador for the United States of America Pickleball Association, visited the Institution for the week and participated in the pickleball program. White, who helps foster the sport in Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, has a love for the game that started when she first learned of it in 2011.

“Pickleball is easy to learn,” White said. “It’s really a lot of fun and you can start playing it almost right away, so you can play it at all different skill levels. It’s intergenerational — it’s not just for older people. I’ve taught 6-year-olds and 90-year-olds, and they all love the game. It’s a game where whatever happens, you end up smiling because it’s a whiffle ball. You can’t get mad with a whiffle ball.”

Multimedia editor Caitie McMekin contributed to this story.