What is pickleball?

Lincoln, its parks and its people
By: Jim Datzman
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If you asked the question, “What is pickleball?” to any senior resident in the newly-formed Sun City Lincoln Hills community in 2000, the answer would most probably have been, “I don’t know. What is pickleball?”

Ask the same question today and you will receive a very different answer, as pickleball has become a very popular sport across the nation.

This popularity is not limited to seniors. Pickleball is recognized as one of the fastest growing sports in the United States and one that is multi-generational in its growth.

Although the game of pickleball was created on a quiet Sunday afternoon in 1965 on Bainbridge Island in Washington, it did not gain in popularity until 2000. 

Today, many young people are finding that it can be a way to have fun with the entire family.  Pickleball is a sport that can be played whether you are 8 years old or 80. 

The city of Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department is initiating a pilot program in 2017 to see if there is sufficient interest to merit development of courts for residents somewhere in the city

When in doubt about any topic in today’s technical age, we warm up the computer and punch up “Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” To summarize its four-page explanation, pickleball is a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis. 

Two, three or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net. 

The court is a smaller version of a tennis court, including a net, with rules similar to tennis. Court size is 20x44 feet for both singles and doubles. 

The scoring is different in that points are added for each winning shot with games ending at 11, 15 or 21 points, depending on the type of competition, according to local rules. 

The best way to become familiar with the rules of the game is to attend a session in the company of an experienced player and it will soon become easy both to understand the rules and to play. 

In Lincoln, the pickleball craze began when a group of seniors in Lincoln Hills worked to establish some courts and to initiate a Pickleball Club in 2007.  Then club President Bill McCullough reported a total of 76 dues-paying members. The games were played on two temporary courts on the half basketball court in the Lincoln Hills Sports Plaza. 

The membership was looking for a club sponsor, and, in this case, the choice was an easy one - who else but Mr. Pickles Sandwich Shop in downtown Lincoln. 

Pam Lopez, the owner of Mr. Pickles, provided complimentary T-shirts to the charter members associated with the newly-formed club.

Marty Rubin, club president for the past two years, cites the high level of social activities associated with pickleball.

Rubin noted that they hold two club banquets each year. The banquet held last month had more than 250 attendees.

In 2017, newly-elected President Craig Fraser inherits a paid membership of 520, which serves as evidence to the popularity of pickleball here in Lincoln. 

For many years, Lincoln residents have participated in the nationally-recognized Huntsman World Senior Games held annually in Saint George, Utah. 

As early as the 2010 games, Lincoln players have earned ribbons for their proficiency in this active sport. 

In 2016, Ron Greeno was one of 25 members from Lincoln who enrolled in the Huntsman Games. Greeno was one of nine representatives from Lincoln who returned with gold, silver or bronze medals in a competitive field of 500 players.  

Award winners included Jim Kiley, Susan Whalen, Sharon Klotz, Didi Martin, Ron Gurgen, Mike McElroy, Susan Peterson, Carol Nakao and Greeno. 

The booming popularity of this sport has resulted in many sports facilities now hosting regional tournaments.  One of our nearby facilities, the Courtside Pickleball Center in Rocklin, was an ideal location for a large regional tournament last week. It can be set up as the largest location for pickleball events in Northern California.  Amy Looney, public relations and marketing assistant for Placer Valley Tourism, played an important role in publicizing this successful event. 

Looney said there is a misconception that pickleball is only played by seniors.  She added that the sport is quickly gaining popularity in all age groups. Her son attends a high school where pickleball has been added as an accredited sport in its physical education curriculum. The students like it so much that they developed a campus Pickleball Club in order to continue their play as an after-school activity. 


Pickleball at McBean Park?

A successful Pickleball Demonstration Clinic was conducted in November on temporary courts in the basketball area directly behind the McBean Pavilion.  Lincoln city staff members Jennifer Hanson, Doug Brown and Scott Boynton assisted in making the event successful for the 57 residents who enjoyed a Saturday morning on the courts.

The clinic served as a great way to determine the degree of interest in pickleball within our community,” said Hanson, Lincoln’s director of public services. “Since pickleball appears to be quickly growing in popularity, we are enthusiastic about hosting some opportunities for free clinics as well as open play. “

Two avid pickleball fans, Joy Norman and Andrea Mayorga, have become “ambassadors for Lincoln-area pickleball activities. 

Norman worked closely with city staff to make the recent Demonstration Clinic at McBean Park a successful venture, one that is leading to events in the weeks ahead.  Norman’s dependability and  organizational skills helped make the last event a resounding success. She took a personal interest in publicity, staffing and availability of refreshments. 

Norman and Mayorga count on members of the Lincoln Hills Pickleball Club to assist with organized pickleball activities. 

Mayorga’s enthusiasm for pickleball knows no bounds.  She definitely views pickleball as a multi-generation sport that is played throughout the United States.  As a traveler, you can use the USA Pickleball Association website to find courts along with access specifics. Go to for a nationwide map and court information.

The cover of the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department Recreational Guide for Winter/Spring 2017 contains an action photo of 8-year-old Jake Winters, who enjoys playing pickleball with his grandfather.  A cover annotation refers to information on Page 4 under the heading for New Programs.  On page 4, you will find the invitation to attend free clinics and to participate in open play sessions on any of the following Saturdays: Jan. 7, Jan. 21, Feb. 4 and Feb. 18.  Sessions are 9 a.m. to noon and open to children of all ages.

Open play time will also be available with paddles, balls and instruction furnished free of charge. This session will include a concluding “Grand Opening and Free Clinic” session from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 4.  Bring your friends to any of these sessions and introduce them to the challenges associated with pickleball.

For those in the 8- to 17-year age group, the city also offers a Spring Break Camp for pickleball players. The camp will be held from 10 a.m. to noon from April 10 to April 14. Costs for the special program are $25/$30NR.  Contact the Parks and Recreation office at 434-3225 with questions.

Pickleball ambassador Mayorga indicated that anyone with questions concerning the upcoming clinics and open play sessions should feel free to contact her at 408-4711. 

It’s folks like Norman and Mayorga who demonstrate that Lincoln is blessed with residents who take time out of their lives to care and do for others. Go Lincoln and go pickleball!


Jim Datzman is a Lincoln Parks and Recreation committee member. This is the fifth in a series of columns on Lincoln, its parks and its people.