Missy Rosenberry: Trying out a fun sport with a weird name

05:00 AM, Dec 28, 2013

Jasper Suhr takes a swing during a recent pickleball game. (MISSY ROSENBERRY)/


Join the fun

Many of our east-side parks and recreation departments have jumped on the pickleball bandwagon. Brighton, Penfield, Pittsford, Perinton and Webster offer lessons, open pickleball time, or both. Webster also has leagues, tournaments, and something they call the “Pickleball Fest.” Check the rec centers’ online catalogs for more information.

For the longest time, I’ve had a hankering for pickleball.

You’ve probably heard about this new sport with the weird name. It’s kind of like tennis and kind of like ping pong, played on a court kind of like a badminton court. It’s played with big paddles and a heavy Wiffle ball. So basically, it’s a lot like other sports … but different.

Ever since I heard about pickleball, I’ve wanted to try it. I’m not sure why. It looks like fun, but so does snowboarding, but I have no desire to do that. It appears to be easy to learn and easy to play, and unlike snowboarding, it’s played indoors where it’s warm. Plus there’s less chance of breaking every bone in my body.

Maybe I just like the name. “Pickleball” is fun to say.

Pickleball, pickleball, pickleball. (See?)

I got a chance to try the game recently at Webster Thomas High School’s after-school Pickleball Club. The club was organized by Thomas senior Ben D’Aurizio. He described the game as “life-size ping-pong,” and told me he created the club as a “fun way to get together with your friends.”

He assured me that I would be welcome whatever my skill level, and despite the real possibility I might require EMT backup. “I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure (on players) to be good or have athletic ability,” he added. “I just wanted it to be fun.”

Encouraged by Ben’s assurances, the Friday before Christmas break, I scurried down to the gymnasium after school to pick up a paddle.

I arrived only about five minutes after the scheduled time, and already the gym was abuzz with activity. Five courts stretched from one side of the gym to the other, and 20 students were already deep into games, smiling, laughing and obviously having a blast. A half-dozen more waited in the wings for their turn.

When a court became available, I grabbed a nearby student, Jasper Suhr, and asked him to show me the ropes. To his credit, he did not turn around and run screaming from the gym. That hurdle cleared, I strode with confidence onto the court, prepared to bedazzle everyone with my natural athletic ability.

My first swing of the racket missed the ball by a good three inches. OK, maybe six.

Long story short, I survived my first pickleball game without making too big a fool of myself, and was ready for my next challenge. Next, I stepped onto a court across from Ben, pickleball pro and club organizer.

Needless to say, Ben’s advanced skills kept me hopping, but I survived. It helped that I asked my partner to mind the net the entire game. I would have feared for my life.

As we cleared away the equipment, I asked Ben to give me an honest assessment of my pickleball skills. He thought for a second, then chose the safe route.

Not bad for a first-timer,” he said.

I’ll take it.