A new sport has been rapidly gaining popularity in town, one that looks familiar yet somewhat different at the same time. People of all ages are learning to play pickleball, a combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis, and Glen Cove seems to be the Long Island hub, with courts popping up all over the city. Just this year, courts have been created at Robbie Wagner’s Tournament Training, Stanco Park and Cove Sports Academy, while the program at the YMCA keeps growing.
“It’s the fastest growing sport in the country,” said Eric Shuman, USA Pickleball Association ambassador of the Gold Coast Pickleball Club.
Shuman, a Glen Cove resident and physical education teacher, said that he had known about the sport for a long time, but didn’t start playing until about two years ago. Like others, he said he had a perception that the game was for older people, particularly since it has become so popular down in Florida. In fact, he learned in order to play with his parents and started playing at the YMCA.
“Then I caught the bug,” he said. “Everyone seems to catch the bug—they’re buying their own paddles, buying special shoes, buying gloves. I was one of those people.”
Shuman is even having a court installed at his home this summer.
He said that some people are also turned off by the name, but the sport has an interesting history.
“The sport originated in Washington State in the 1960s by parents who wanted to keep their kids occupied and out of the house,” said Shuman. “They gave them squash paddles, a badminton net and whiffle ball. Before you knew it, kids liked it, neighbors were playing it, parents enjoyed it, they made up some rules and it took off.”
The name evolved because the original players owned a dog named Pickles, who would fetch the ball when it went out of bounds.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Shuman was on the court at Cove Sports Academy, playing with fellow club members Andrew Ritter, Harrison Knight and Mike Sajecki. The foursome, ranging in age from 29 to 70, played a close match, proving that age is not a factor.
“If you take a 70-year-old tennis player, even if you’re a good player, you cannot play with 35-year-olds. It’s just a difference in power,” said Knight, 70, who taught tennis for 30 years and began playing pickleball this winter.
“You have to go to a tennis court with a partner, you’re not just going find people to play with,” said Sajecki, who picked up the sport two months ago. “With pickleball, there are always people looking to play.”
Shuman and Ritter began playing around the same time and said that eventually, they learned they were playing it incorrectly. They did more research and have been improving.
“It’s easy to learn, but difficult to master,” said Knight.
“The game is very simple,” added Shuman. “But there’s depth to the sport. When you start playing with strategy and skilled players, it gets really tough.”
He said the simpleness is part of the appeal of the sport, as well as the cost. A lot of school districts have begun adding it to the physical education curriculum because they already have the necessary equipment. While it is a good workout, he said there are other benefits to play the sport as well.
“I personally like the social aspect of the sport,” said Shuman. “I went from softball leagues and basketball leagues and everyone’s fine, but they either take it too seriously, where it’s not fun anymore, or they don’t take it seriously enough and they barely even show up. This group that we’ve slowly been growing over the course of several months…everyone is friendly. Afterwards, we’ll go out to lunch together, we’ll text each other. We’ve learned to help each other out.”
Anyone interested in playing have options this summer. The Robbie Wagner Intermediate Pickleball League will be on Saturday mornings from July to September and Robbie Wagner Beginner Clinics will be on Sunday mornings starting in August.
The Gold Coast Pickleball Tournament will be held at Cove Sports on Aug. 12 and 13. For details regarding specific dates and cost, email GoldCoastPickleball@gmail.com, call Shuman at 516-987-3219 or find Gold Coast Pickleball on Facebook.