Streetsboro is the latest community to embrace the increasingly popular sport of pickleball, a cross between ping pong and tennis.
“Pickleball is the fastest growing sport for [ages] 55+ in the country right now,” said Greg Mytinger, Streetsboro Parks and Recreation Manager.
While previously working for the Canton Parks and Recreation Department, Mytinger – who describes the sport as a cross between ping pong and tennis – said the city added four pickleball courts that have proven very popular.
Based on his past experience, the decision to add courts to 8970 Kirby Lane in Streetsboro City Park seemed like common sense. Existing tennis courts have been modified to accommodate both sports.
On Wednesday, a demonstration of the sports took place on the new city courts. Attendees were given a crash course in rules and technique by two guests intimately familiar with the game.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is a sport played with what look like oversized table tennis bats and lime green balls resembling wiffle balls. The court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide, roughly the size of a badminton court. The style of play is similar in nature to tennis with markedly different rules. Like tennis, it can be played indoors or outdoors.
Early Wednesday night, Mytinger was in court setting up a retractable awning and folding tables filled with paper plates and condiments. Complimentary hot dogs and pickles were on the menu.
Rebecca Moore tended the grill. Her organization, Foundation Health Solutions, for which she is the regional marketing manager, provided the refreshments.
The instructors for the evening were Ralph Richard, owner of a pickleball outfitter in Chagrin Falls called the Pickleball Trading Post, and Rick Dula, owner and head instructor of North Coast Pickleball in Lyndhurst and USA Pickleball Ambassador.
Richard, who has been playing for six years after being exposed to the game at his local YMCA, confirmed the sport’s growing ubiquity. Wherever he goes, he seems to be able to find someone to play with.
“For example,” said Richard, “I was just in Chapel Hill, North Carolina — our daughter, her family just moved there. I had nothing to do on Monday, I googled ‘local pickleball “I found the courts, went there, played about half a dozen games and didn’t know anyone. People are very welcoming.”
He speculated that the sport is gaining popularity for two reasons.
The first is that the country’s aging population. As pickleball is not too strenuous, it is a popular game for those who may not be as keen as before.
The second reason is the greater visibility of the sport, which now includes professionals.
The social aspect of the game is something else that Richard touts.
“We see a lot of mixed doubles. In other words, husband and wife, men and women mixing to play. You have the opportunity to develop other friendships,” he said.
“The good thing about pickleball, for me, is that it has three main principles,” Dula said. “One, it’s a very social, very, very social activity; two, you exercise, you exercise as much as you want, cardio included; and three, if you have some juice competition in the blood, you can meet all these needs.”
At Wednesday’s event, Mytinger cut the tape at the gate of the fenced courts after a three count from the crowd. Afterwards, Dula appeared in front of the crowd to offer an introduction to the sport.
Dula invited one of the approximately 35 people gathered on the ground to learn the basics.
“We’re going to go over some of our basic hits, serve, dink, forehand and backhand,” Dula said. Basic rules and safety tips were also covered during the lesson – wear good shoes and safety glasses.
About fifteen people gathered went on the ground to actively participate in the demonstration.
The split into two groups on two grounds, one led by Dula, the other by Richard. For a little over an hour, the participants learned to play. Some took the game naturally, while others struggled slightly, but everyone seemed to improve over the night.
From the start, Dula motivated her students. Success was met with praise for a job well done, and failure with encouragement to try again.
The weather was clear, but a strong wind swept through the park all day, making the balls harder to control. Despite the flurries, the booming pickleballers managed to whip up a few good volleys between them.
As the fun wound down, Mytinger said he would like to see a recreational pickleball league form in the morning around the new courts.
“I hope we have so many people here that we have to start planning times,” he said.
John Steigerwald thought the event was a good introduction to the sport. He started training two or three weeks ago, but hasn’t played more than that. Steigerwald, an athlete himself who heals a broken quad after a ride, thinks he’ll keep up with the sport.
Kathleen Cassie used the event as a way to return to pickleball after many years away from the game.
“I’m glad they’re offering this,” Cassie said, “because we all need something to do, get us out of the house.” She said she encourages her friends to play so they can add it to their repertoire of activities.
“We play cornhole here on Fridays – it’s like, okay ladies, we move because from cornhole, we come [to the pickleball courts]and then we’ll go play pinochle.”
Contact journalist Derek Kreider at [email protected]