CLAYTON — To the casual eye, the sport might appear to be tennis: players lobbing a small ball over a net.
But this is pickleball, the newest sport to come to town. In the spring, it will become part of the Johnston County Senior Games.
The court is smaller than a tennis court. And instead of a racquet, players use wooden paddle. When serving, they bounce the ball, a whiffle ball, on the ground first instead of tossing it up in the air. Overall, the game is shorter than a tennis match.
“It’s great for seniors because it’s a slower pace and less impact than tennis,” said Larry Bailey, director of the Clayton Parks and Recreation Department.
About a dozen people came out to the Clayton Community Center last week for a demonstration of pickleball.
Two pickleball “pros,” Amy Watson and Joe Borrelli, taught a group of men and women the rules of the game and played in a clinic with the newcomers.
“It’s like tennis and badminton all in one,” said Joanne Gusko, who came with her husband, Gary, to learn the sport.
The two play in the Senior Games each year and said they’d like to play pickleball in the games once they’ve had time to practice.
Pickleball was created in 1965 by two men in Washington state who thought it up when improvising an activity their family could do together. They only had an old badminton court, damaged rackets, and their dog’s plastic ball, and the combination became “Pickleball.”
It is named after the co-inventor’s dog, “Pickles.”
Daphne Key came out to play pickleball with a group of four other ladies. They all used to regularly play tennis together, but since Key had a knee replacement, she hasn’t been able to play.
“This sport is going to be perfect for me,” Key said.
Her friend, Cathy Ingle, said she’s excited they can play as a group again now that they’ve found a sport that works for everyone.
The sport is ideal for older adults, but it’s fun for all ages.
Amy Watson has been playing the sport for a year and a half. She got into it when while trying to get in shape after having two children.
Watson, who played tennis in high school and college, said she wanted something that was less competitive.
“It’s a little easier than tennis, and the games don’t take as long,” she said.
And since the game requires less time, she’s able to play it more often than she would tennis.
Watson helped bring the sport to Clayton. Up until last week’s demo, she’d been driving to Briar Creek in Raleigh to play.
Watson hopes the sport will catch on here so Clayton can launch a league of people of all ages.
“You don’t need to have tennis experience to play this or have even held a paddle before,” she said.
Watkins said she’s seen all kinds of people come out to play pickleball, including an opponent who had braces on multiple limbs. She’s also played with a college student who made it more challenging.
Bailey said he would like to offer pickleball on a weekly basis at the Clayton Community Center. The turnout for the demo last week showed him the sport enjoys a good level of interest.
“Everyone has been really enthusiastic here about it,” Bailey said.