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National popularity of pickleball starting to trickle into Quincy

Gail DeGreef of Quincy, center, is set to return a volley, while playing pickleball with friends at Berrian Park, Quincy. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Jul. 7, 2014 8:13 am Updated: Jul. 21, 2014 10:15 am

By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Louis DeGreeff was hooked from the moment he played his first pickleball game.

DeGreeff, a retired Quincy doctor, was in Florida in January when one of his friends invited him to play the game with the weird name, a hybrid that combines tennis, pingpong and badminton.

"I just fell in love with it," DeGreeff said. "I thought it was so much fun."

When he came back to Quincy, he started looking into where he could play the game locally. When he couldn't find anywhere to play, he went to the Quincy Park District and asked about converting some of the city's tennis courts into areas for pickleball. At the April meeting of the Quincy Park Board, commissioners voted to turn some seldom-used tennis courts at Berrian Park on the city's northwest side into a place for pickleball.

The cost for the conversion is $3,500, which will be paid by using corporate reserves. The city will have its first true pickleball courts sometime within the next month. The courts at Berrian will be resurfaced and lined specifically for pickleball, which uses about half of the area of a regular tennis court. The Park District will line two courts, with room to expand for up to six courts should the sport take hold in Quincy.

"It is a growing sport," said Mike Bruns, director of program services for the Quincy Park District. "It's something anyone can play because there's not a ton of movement. I think it will catch on here."

DeGreeff certainly hopes so. He has offered up his services to help teach people who want to learn the game, which is easy to learn. He already has a group of about a dozen people meeting a few times a week at Berrian to get their pickleball fix. The current courts at Berrian have been crudely marked for pickleball.

Pickleball is played on a court that is 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. It is marked somewhat like a tennis court. The server must serve from behind the end line. Unlike tennis, all serves must be done underhand, and servers only get one chance to hit the ball into the court opposite them.

"It's always soft," DeGreeff said of the serve. "You can't hit a hard serve. You can try spin and stuff like that, but you can't hit a hard serve, so a woman can receive it as easy as a man."

The ball -- a Wiffle ball -- must bounce on each side of the court once before players are allowed to hit it on the fly. Players can't just charge the net and slam the ball, either. On each side of the net, which is an inch lower than a standard tennis net, is a 7-foot area called the "kitchen." Players must stay out of the kitchen. If they have a foot inside the "kitchen" when they hit it, they lose the point.

In a game of doubles, each partner gets a chance to serve before it goes over to the other side. Games are quick, too. The first team to 11 points wins. A game usually takes only 15 to 20 minutes.

Instead of tennis racquets, players use paddles that look like they have been supersized from a pingpong table.

"It's a quick study," DeGreeff said. "It's not something that takes a long time to learn. It's just a matter of hitting this way or that way."

Because of the small size of the court, pickleball doesn't involve a lot of running. The game involves reflexes and short bursts of action.

The sport appeals to all age levels but has become popular among senior citizens. Many in the group that gathers in Quincy are retirees looking to stay active. Many retirement communities in Arizona and Florida have added pickleball courts to their complexes. According to the United States of America Pickleball Association, more than 100,000 players are actively playing the game in all 50 states.

"Everybody is jumping on board with it," said DeGreeff, 68. "The idea is to get people who feel like they might be too old to play sports like tennis, to get them back out again and back on their feet again."

Paddles and balls will be available for rent at the Quincy Park District's offices, 1231 Bonansinga Drive, once the courts are resurfaced at Berrian.

-- dobrien@whig.com/221-3370