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Langlade County News

In A Pickle For A New Winter Activity? Try This Great Indoor or Outdoor Sport

March 3, 2015

The crew is in a bit of a pickle.

Like everyone else, the folks who produce these little weekly epistles are feeling a bit restless, out-of-sorts even, as winter lingers. Not blue—never blue—but maybe a slight shade of azure.

The solution? Grab a racquet and hit the courts.

Or in this case, a paddle, and a pickle(ball).

Pickleball is a strange name for a great little sport, able to be played by people of all ages, from Sarah Repp’s four-year-old son, William, to the community’s most seasoned citizens. It combines the ease of ping pong and badminton with a bit of the strategy and skill of tennis. And it comes without all the wear and tear on the joints that hard court sports so often bring.

Add a dash of healthy competition and you’ve got yourself a league.

“Pickleball is a fun activity for both adults and kids,” Repp, the belle of the (pickle)ball, said. “My family had so much fun when it started that we purchased our own net and play at the house. Even my four-year-old can smack the ball over the low net and feel a sense of accomplishment as I race to return his serve. My nine-year-old enjoys the rapid volley at the net and relishes the opportunity to give the ball a good hit in my direction.”

But first: a word about the name. It has to do with a dog, as most things seem to in the world of the blues crew.

The story goes that after playing golf one Saturday during the summer, Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State and businessman Bill Bell returned to Pritchard’s home near Seattle to find their families sitting around with nothing to do. The property had an old badminton court so Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of racquets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. It was a hit.

Alas, the name actually was derived from the term “pickle boat,” which refers to the last boat to return with its catch, according to Prichard’s wife, Joan. She explained that it was a brainstorm "after I said it reminded me of the pickle boats where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats. Somehow the idea that it came from our dog Pickles was attached to the naming of the game, but Pickles wasn't on the scene for two more years. The dog was named for the game."

The little mutt was probably a trouble-making heeler. It would have been a better story if the game as named after the dog instead of vice versa.

Back to the present day.

Antigo’s Rev. Bernadette Bruner, who is as excellent at racquet sports as all-things ecclesiastical, can be credited to bringing the game to Antigo.

“Bernadette originally contacted me about three years ago inquiring about starting a pickleball program in Antigo,” Repp said. “ I was hesitant, and I wasn’t positive there was truly enough interest in the community to have a successful program. The pickleball folder sat on my desk for another year, and during that time I had quite a few inquiries regarding the sport. I decided to give Bernadette a call and see if she was still interested in putting a program together.”

Planning details are boring. Suffice to say, Bruner’s positive outlook, patience, and unrelenting passion for the sport has allowed for a successful program that not only has an interesting name, but is also a really fun activity, Repp said.

The crew usually enjoys its pickle in a glass, drowning in a Bloody Mary, but gave the game a try with some help from members of the Boys and Girls Club.

Should be a piece of cake—or rather slice of Vlasic—for a tennis player right?

Not quite.

First mistake was in trying to bounce the wiffleball-type ball before serving. It simply doesn’t work.

The second, was forgetting there’s no racquet, only a sort of ping pong paddle on steroids. So...a swing and a miss.

But with a few minutes of practice, it became obviously that this is a game that can be really, really fun, whether you’re playing with a youngster or a seasoned professional.

“I try not to get too competitive with the kids, but every now and then I feel like wagering various household chores on the next point,” Repp said.

In the summer, Bruner has hosted instructors from surrounding communities to meet in Antigo to ensure new participants learn the rules and have a positive experience.

“She is in constant contact with players throughout the outdoor season, and regularly meets at the courts to play and welcome players,” Repp said.

Play continues in the winter as well, at a time when the tennis courts are covered with ice and snow. Indoor games take place at the Boys and Girls Club court, another great little facility far too few people know about. Games can be scheduled from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The city provides paddles, balls and a portable net.

“We are very grateful to the Boys and Girls Club for allowing us to have an indoor pickleball location for the winter months,” Jeanne Peters, a game enthusiast who has coordinated the majority of the winter play, said. “Those who are interested in giving it a try should sign up through the park and rec department.”

Repp stressed that although the league is free, registration is required and can be done on the city’s website at www.antigo-city.org/rec1.

“The winter group had been playing weekly up until mid-December when life got busy with Christmas,” Peters said. “Now, many of our group has gone to warmer climates for the winter season. Once they return, I hope that we'll be playing on a more regular basis.”

In summer—someday—the game will move outside to the friendly Mendlik Park courts in the 1400 block of Clermont Street. The city already has two courts at the park, with plans to add two more to accommodate the growing number of players.

Nationwide, over 400,000 people play pickleball, according to the folks who count these things, with facilities in all 50 states and even a formal organization, the USA Pickleball Association, as the game’s overseer.

Another great way to beat the winter blues in Antigo.

Winter may be lingering, but the Beating the Blues in Antigo series is coming to an end. The crew hopes Antigo Daily Journal readers have enjoyed this lighthearted look at how to enjoy the wintertime at home, without even leaving the city limits. For comments, or suggestions for future series, e-mail Lisa Haefs at adjlisa@solarus.net.

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