COURTESY PHOTO Elmhurst Independent
At the Pickleball Open…
Pickleball Ambassador Peggy Whitlow (left) and her sister attended the US Pickleball Open in Naples, Fla., this year. Whitlow is working to find ways to introduce the sport to Elmhurst and other communities.

New sport combines tennis, badminton, ping pong, says ‘Ambassador’

By Marisa Mancini

For The Elmhurst Independent

While pickleball is gaining popularity in Elmhurst, many people still know little or nothing about it. Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, and is suitable for all ages and skill levels. The rules are simple and the game is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players.

According to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) website, pickleball is exploding in popularity. The number of places to play has more than doubled since 2010, with nearly 4,000 locations on the site’s “Places to Play” map.

Pickleball is played both indoors and outdoors on a badminton-sized court (20×44 feet), using a slightly lower tennis net, a pickleball paddle (think bigger ping pong paddle), and a plastic ball with holes, similar to a standard whiffle ball. Like tennis, the court is striped with a right and left service court and a seven-foot, non-volley zone in front of the net (referred to as the “kitchen”). An underhand serve starts each point and games go to 11 points.

Local resident is Pickleball Ambassador

Elmhurst resident Peggy Whitlow is a pickleball Ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), a nonprofit corporation that promotes the growth and development of pickleball on both a national and international level. A retired special education teacher and a runner for 25 years, Whitlow is fairly new to the sport.

“I first played pickleball in 2014 while visiting my sister in Arizona,” she stated. “My sister sold T-shirts at the Pickleball Nationals, which are almost always held there. For seven days, I learned as much as I could about pickleball. I watched matches, went to a Rules Clinic and a Referee Clinic, and in the evening there were 30 to 40 open courts available for players of all levels, including me, to play pickleball. I loved it.”

When she returned home, Whitlow was disappointed there was nowhere to play pickleball in Elmhurst.

“I ended up playing in Hoffman Estates,” she said. “The USAPA website listed surrounding suburbs that had pickleball facilities, so I also played in Palatine, Barrington, Lake Bluff, Aurora, Wheaton, Glen Ellyn and Addison. These towns have facilities in multiple places – like the gym at their YMCA, and dedicated or lined outdoor pickleball courts. The cost is minimal – $2 to $5 for two to three hours of indoor play – and usually no charge to play outside. I wanted to play closer to home and also felt Elmhurst was missing out on a great sport.”

Just shy of a year ago, Whitlow applied to be a pickleball Ambassador in the hopes of growing the sport in Elmhurst.

“I love pickleball for so many reasons,” she said. “People of all ages and fitness levels can play; it is easy to pick up; it is a good form of exercise; it is inexpensive; it can be laid back or extremely competitive; and it is very social. Even my 12-year-old grandson will play pickleball with me!”

As an Ambassador, Whitlow’s primary responsibility is to be the USAPA’s spokesperson and representative for all activities related to pickleball within the area she represents, which includes Elmhurst.

“Right now, the only indoor pickleball option in Elmhurst is Courts Plus, which, since summer 2016 has offered drop-in pickleball with instruction by Anne Mache on Wednesdays and Fridays from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at a fee of $6 per members and $10 for non-members,” Whitlow said.

Summer options, where to play pickleball

Starting June 7, Courts Plus will offer outdoor pickleball on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at East End Park at a cost of $6 per player. Mache will provide instruction to beginners. Players will be divided by ability and play round robin games.

Another summer option for pickleball is with the recently-formed Elmhurst Pickleball Club (EPC), of which Whitlow is a member. Beginning June 6, EPC will play on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m., and Thursday mornings from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at Eldridge Park in Elmhurst.

“One tennis court at Eldridge has already been lined for pickleball by the Elmhurst Park District and we will tape lines on the other court. There is no cost to play and everyone is welcome,” Whitlow said. “Additionally, I will bring loaner paddles and balls at no charge for those who do not have them. This is a great way for anyone interested in pickleball to try it. Just show up and start playing.”

Jim Rogers, executive director of the Elmhurst Park District supports the new sport.

“The Park District looks forward to working with folks in Elmhurst who are interested in pickleball,” he said. “We’ve been pleased to begin offering some programming and facilities for this emerging sport and will continue to gauge participation and interest in order to determine if and how we might do more in the future.”

“We appreciate Elmhurst Park District’s support of pickleball by offering the drop-in program at Courts Plus and for lining several courts in town,” added Whitlow. “We hope that once people play, they will get hooked on it like I did.”

For more information, contact Peggy by email at pickleballpaddlesetc@yahoo.com.

 

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