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Published January 22 2013

VIDEO: Fargo Park District offers pickleball

FARGO – On a recent Saturday morning, the gym of Clara Barton Elementary School echoed with the ping and pong of a plastic whiffle ball against wooden paddles.

Two teams of two players softly volleyed the white ball back and forth across the short net. It’s a small court, so nobody had to move too far to reach the ball.

Sometimes the exchange lasted for a while, with each player connecting solidly with the paddle, lofting the ball over to the other side.

Eventually someone misses his or her shot and hits the ball out of play. Even with just a touch of spin on it, the whiffle ball can be difficult to hit straight.

Bonnie Bosch, watching from the back of the gym, cheers for the winning team as she waits for her chance to play.

“We’re not hardcore competitors,” she says.

Bosch is one of a handful of players who turned out Saturday to play the sport, called pickleball, offered by the Fargo Park District every week.

It’s a game that some might remember playing in gym class during grade school. Now, it’s become a popular offering across the country.

According to a recent USA Today article, there were nearly 1,500 locations to play pickleball in 2012, double the number that existed in 2010.

Because it’s so easy to play and doesn’t require much running or major exertion, it’s especially popular with older generations in places like Arizona.

That’s how it is for Bosch.

“I can play it even though I can’t really run,” says Bosch. “It got me active again besides walking or biking.”

This is the third year pickleball has been offered by the Fargo Parks District, and attendance has varied each season. Participants say last year brought a nice mix of young and old, although Saturday’s turnout was mostly players in their 50s and 60s.

Derek Green, the youngest of the players at Clara Barton on Saturday, likens pickleball to “low-impact tennis.”

“It’s a super-simple, friendly thing,” he said during a game break. “It’s low-impact tennis. Really anyone can play it.”

That’s not to say that younger, quicker people don’t have a bit of an advantage. As the game resumed, Green stepped up and smashed the ball into the other team’s court for a point, causing Bosch to laugh.

“You can see the difference with the young players,” she says. “It’s fun to try and keep up with him.”

There are no organized teams for the Fargo Parks competition. Instead, participants create a rotation so everyone gets an equal chance to play.

The official rules of the game are pretty simple, modeled after badminton. Two teams of two compete, and each player alternates serving diagonally to the other team.

The games are self-refereed by the players, and there’s usually not much disagreement.

“Nobody cares much if they win or lose,” Karen Dahlseng, another of Saturday’s players, says. “It’s the fun of playing.”

Even though this year’s season is officially underway, new players can still join on any given Saturday after paying a $50 registration fee.

Regulars like Judy Folden, who has played for all three years, say they hope more players show up as the weeks progress.

“We’d like more people to come out to see how fun it is,” Folden says. “It’s just simple to play.”

If you go

What: Pickleball, offered by the Fargo Parks District

When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays until March 16

Where: Clara Barton Elementary School gym, 1451 6th St. S., Fargo

Info: Registration fee for season is $50; contact the Fargo Parks District at (701) 499-6060 for more information

Nothing to do with pickles

Depending on who you ask, there are two official theories on how pickleball got its name.

Neither has anything to do with pickles.

One day in 1965, Joel Pritchard and a friend were trying to find an activity for their family to play while at the Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, Wash.

The family’s yard had a badminton court, but nobody could find badminton equipment. Instead they made their own wooden paddles, found a white plastic ball and started to play, making up rules as they went.

According to the U.S.A. Pickleball Association, the game came to be called pickleball because Pritchard’s dog would chase balls that would leave the court during play. The dog’s name? Pickles.

But according to a 2009 article in the Kitsap Sun newspaper based in Bremerton, Wash., that’s not true. Pritchard’s daughter said in the story that the dog was named after the sport, not the other way around.

Instead, she told the newspaper that the sport got its name when Pritchard’s wife said the game reminded her of a “pickle boat,” the slowest boat in a race.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535