A sport with a peculiar name is catching on at Jacksonville Senior Center. Seniors are going to the gym next door to the center twice a week to learn the rules and try their luck at pickleball.
The game is part tennis, part ping-pong and part badminton. It's played with a large paddle and a whiffle ball on a court the size of a badminton court — 20 feet by 44 feet. The net is 3 feet off the ground.
"It's tennis for old people," said Jim Calland, of Baldwin, as he took a break from a game. Since he's new to the sport, Calland played on a two-person team with Ed Szympruch, a pickleball veteran who convinced the senior center to add the sport to its offerings.
"We have a home in Arizona and most retirement communities there play pickleball," said Szympruch, who lives in Baldwin. "The closest I could find it around here was in Fallston. It's such a great game that it will catch on in Jacksonville, too."
The play is fairly simple. Each team member gets a chance to serve the ball underhand to the opponents. Points can only be scored when a team is serving. Games go to 11 points and a team must win by two points.
There is a restricted zone in front of the net called the kitchen. A player can only enter it if a ball returned by the opponents bounces in the space.
Two of the three courts set up in Carroll Manor Recreation Council's gym were in use on the second day it was offered. The USA Pickleball Association gave Szympruch a $250 grant to purchase the nets, four paddles and a box of whiffle balls.
Szympruch and Calland played against Bill and Zoe Miller, former tennis players from Baldwin, who wanted to see what the new sport was all about.
"The scoring's a little confusing at first, but it is fun," Zoe Miller said. "We'll come back again."
Newcomer Carole Goorevitz, of Monkton, joined Carol Szympruch, an experienced pickleballer.
"This is definitely a workout, but it's not as much running as tennis," Goorevitz said.
Priscilla Eissinger, of Churchville, who plays at Fallston, came to Jacksonville to help teach the game she loves.
"This game is a lot more social than tennis," she said. "People don't take themselves too seriously. They're having fun and getting exercise."
The game was created in 1965 when Washington state Congressman Joel Pritchard and a friend wanted to keep their families entertained, according to the USA Pickleball Association's website. They made wooden paddles and hit a whiffle ball over a badminton net. They then devised simple rules so young and old could play.
When balls went astray, the Pritchards' dog, Pickles, picked them up. Soon enough, the game became known as pickleball.
The sport is offered Mondays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Carroll Manor gym. There is no charge, but seniors must be registered members of the adjacent Jacksonville Senior Center to participate.
For details, call the center at 410-887-8207. It is located at 3605 Sweet Air Road, Jacksonville.