Pickleball a hot new sport for all ages

BENNINGTON — The usual sports for the Baby Boomer crowd — tennis and golf — might be out.

The new big thing is Pickleball, a tennis, ping-pong and badminton hybrid, one of the fastest growing sports in the country.

More than 3 million people are playing, including nearly 40 in the Bennington Pickleball Club.

On Tuesday, the club hosted Richard Movsessian, a former physical education teacher and boys varsity tennis coach at North Middlesex Regional High School in Massachusetts. Movsessian, who is better known as Coach Mo, has been teaching the game of Pickleball in The Villages in Florida. In 2010, he was a silver medalist in the men's 35-and-over doubles at the USA Pickleball Association National Championship.

Movsessian, now 78, goes around the country giving clinics and came back to the Northeast for events in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont and he's considered to be a guru of the sport.

At Tuesday's event, Movsessian focused on basics, like teaching the correct strokes and positioning, adding some dry humor to the dozens in attendance.

"I retired at 52 and moved to Florida and I thought I'd be playing tennis there, but then I found pickleball, because they started making the tennis courts a foot longer every year," Movsessian joked. "Maybe I was getting older. So everyone found out I was a teaching pro for tennis and they asked me for advice, so I started my own clinics and seminars on strategy. I did that for a few years and all the snowbirds went back home and wanted to play. They started asking me to come up where they lived in the North, they loved the clinics I gave [in Florida]. I enjoy it and it keeps me going."

The sport's invention came back in the 1960s in the Pacific Northwest when three dads, whose kids were bored with the usual summertime activities, came up with a new game.

The name, according to the legend, comes from co-inventor Joel Pritchard's dog, Pickles.

The court is 20 feet by 44 feet and can be played in both singles and doubles. Like tennis, the serve goes to the adjacent service court, but unlike tennis, there's a two-bounce rule, which means the ball has to bounce once on both sides of the court before being returned.

There's also a 7-foot no-volley zone, taking away the powerful overhand slam seen in tennis. This zone is also called "the kitchen."

Over the past half-century, it has evolved into a sport with national championships and millions of players, with more getting involved every week.

It has become a way to stay active, especially during the winter months when outdoor activities are tougher to do in the cold.

The only thing players need are a ball that's similar to a wiffle ball (a pickleball is slightly bigger and heavier) and a paddle that's cross between a ping-pong paddle and a tennis racket. There are different levels, ranging from $20 for wooden up to more than $100 for a pro-level paddle.

"It's a pretty cheap sport, it's low-impact, but you'll get sweaty," said Polly van der Linde, a member of the Bennington club who helped bring "Coach Mo" to Vermont.

"He's in high demand and he really knows his stuff," van der Linde said. "I met him down in the Villages, where my mother lives. I went to one of his clinics and being a concert pianist, I know what it takes to get better. I asked if I could have some 1-on-1 lessons and if he could piggyback a trip here because our community would love it."

The Bennington Pickleball Club is thriving with more than 40 members after it was started by now-president Jerry Wall in January 2017.

Along with being the president of the club, Wall was named by the USA Pickleball Association as the ambassador for the state of Vermont to spread the word about the sport.

The Bennington club plays in three different places — Mount Anthony's high school gym, Bennington Elementary during the winter months and at the Bennington Rec Center. There are also pickleball courts at Dana Thompson Rec Park in Manchester.

"I think it's a great energy in this club," van der Linde said. "It's a young club, only a year and a half old, officially. We're looking for more places to play because our club is growing."

Younger players are getting involved too. Van der Linde's son is 21 and he plays in the club, she said.

"It's a nice wide age range," van der Linde said.

Movsessian said he was happy to see so many people in Bennington involved in the sport.

"I really enjoy it. The people here are students of the game and really addicted to the sport because they love it," Movsessian said. "It's an easy sport to lean and very good to build camaraderie. It's good exercise, for both older people and the younger people coming in."

For more information on the Bennington Pickleball Club, call president Jerry Wall at 518-461-3101.


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