Region – A recent television report on “NBC Nightly News” proclaimed pickleball “the fastest-growing sport in America.” It's played regularly at several local locations, and this year's Massachusetts Senior Games Pickleball Tournament will be held Saturday, Aug. 23, and Sunday, Aug. 24, at the Shrewsbury Health and Racquet Club (SHARC).
This sport combines many elements of badminton, tennis and ping pong, noted Marlborough resident Dave Brower, volunteer ambassador of the USA Pickleball Association.
“Pickleball is very popular with active seniors because it's less stressful on the body than tennis, but allows for exercise, recreation and friendly competition,” he said. “For many people it's just recreational; they go once or twice a week, play for an hour or two, and they have a good time. It's social because we keep mixing partners, and if you'se not playing, you'se chatting while you'se waiting to play. You meet new people who are active and interesting. And whether or not you'se competitive, you get exercise out of it.”
Brower experienced the game for the first time two years ago while visiting his sister in Naples, Florida. Soon after returning home, he found a group of pickleball players who meet in Northborough. Since then, he's been playing the sport regularly.
Pickleball is played at two locations in Northborough. Indoors, players meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 1 p.m. in the gym at the Town Hall. Outdoors, players meet at the same days and time on the parking lot at Ellsworth-McAfee Park. There are currently three courts on the parking lot with room for two more as demand warrants.
Typically, over a dozen players participate at each location.
In Marlborough, pickleball is played Saturdays at 9 a.m. on the tennis courts at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School. Three or more tennis courts are used for pickleball.
The Boroughs Family Branch YMCA in Westborough welcomes pickleball players Mondays at 12:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
In Shrewsbury, pickleball playing will resume in the fall at SHARC when the outdoor season ends.
Brower competed at last year's Massachusetts Senior Games Pickleball Tournament, which was held at the Longfellow Club in Watertown. He's competing this year at SHARC in men's doubles in the age 65 to 69 category.
“My partner and I were competitive last year; we won two matches and lost two,” he said. “I expect the level of competition to be higher this year.”
Players from Northborough competed last year and were successful. Norm and Joanne Avey won a gold medal in mixed doubles, 60 to 69 category. Norm also won bronze in men's 60 to 69 singles. Kevin Neary and Harry Sauter received silver medals in men's doubles 70 to 79; Jim Biel and Mel Goss won bronze in the same category.
Based on experience, Brower believes that this year's tournament participants will appreciate SHARC as a venue.
“Last year's location had a low ceiling and very restricted space around the courts,” he said. “At SHARC, we have a high ceiling and more space. Also, we can go from the four courts of last year to as many as nine at SHARC.”
Players age 50 and over can register online at maseniorgames.org. Registration closes Monday, Aug. 18.
“People who play the sport know whether or not they'se competitive enough to enter the tournament,” Brower noted.