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Active residents take a swing at pickleball

File: Jan Fraunfelder and Judy Johnson of Toledo, Ohio, play pickleball the morning of April 30, 2012, at the Island Rec Center on Hilton Head Island.
File: Jan Fraunfelder and Judy Johnson of Toledo, Ohio, play pickleball the morning of April 30, 2012, at the Island Rec Center on Hilton Head Island. The Island Packet

Hilton Head Island resident John Dreier said when he first heard about pickleball, he thought it was just for old people.

Dreier said he drove by the pickleball courts at Sun City Hilton Head and thought, "That's a bunch of old losers. I'm old, but I've still got a lot of vitality. I don't want to do that."

Then he actually watched a game of pickleball and thought it looked like fun.

"I played like twice and I was hooked," Dreier said.

Now, a little more than a year after being introduced to the game, he's having a ball playing with a group at the Island Recreation Center on Hilton Head. The group transforms the center's basketball courts into pickleball courts by using portable nets and chalk to draw the boundary lines. They also use foam barriers to keep the balls inside the court. They use four nets, which allows 16 people to play at a time.

Dreier described pickleball as a sport in between tennis and ping-pong. He said it is usually played as a doubles game, with two people on each side of the net. Players use wood or graphite paddles, similar to racquetball paddles, to hit a small plastic ball across the net.

Dreier said pickleball can be a leisure activity or an intense workout, depending on how it's played.

"When it's played well, the ball is hit hard and it requires a lot of dexterity, ability to aim the ball," Dreier said. "So it can be a very exciting, fast-paced game."

Hilton Head resident Don Wheeler became a local ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association a little more than a year ago. Through word of mouth, he rounded up the group of people who regularly play at the recreation center. Wheeler said he has about 100 people on his mailing list for pickleball at the center, and between eight and 20 people play there five days a week.

"It gets me off the rocking chair," Wheeler said.

He said pickleball is not only a great form of exercise; it's also a great social outlet. Players have a good time and meet new friends. And it's not just local residents who show up to play. Visitors from all across the country stop in for a game of pickleball while on Hilton Head.

Wheeler said in addition to the recreation center and Sun City, groups play pickleball in Palmetto Hall Plantation and Shipyard Plantation on Hilton Head, and in Belfair in Bluffton.

Best of all, Wheeler said pickleball is easy to learn.

"You won't be a beginner very long," he said.

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