“Whack, whack, whack.” The sounds hits you before the sight; a group of 50 and older playing a sport called pickleball. The game follows the rules of ping-pong and tennis in that there is a court, a ball, and a net between them. The main difference is the type of ball, a whiffle ball; and the racket, a fiberglass paddle larger than a ping-pong pad and smaller than a tennis racquet.
Pickle Ball was a sport invented by a Washington Congressman named Joel Pritchard. The story goes that he wanted a game that both he and his kids could play. After fabricating some paddles and slapping around a whiffle ball the sport was born. The name, however, comes from the family dog, Pickles. When the ball was hit loose, Pickles loved to chase the ball, thus Pickleball.
The sport is enjoyed by all, but in the Baton Rouge area, the 50 and older crowd of Cedar Ridge especially loves their pickleball. Tom Burkhardt, a member of the United States of America Pickleball Association, not only plays locally but in regional tournaments. The night I covered this story they had a pickleball player drive all the way in from Lafayette just to get some playing time in. Dana Lewczyk, another avid player, plays about 4 times a week. She even gets up at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesdays for their Wednesday game.
The sport has gotten so popular in the community that one player decided to introduce it to his workplace, Hunt Correctional Institute, a prison in St. Gabriel Parish. Robert Kelly began seeing that the older prisoners at his prison had trouble finding activities that suited their needs. “Some of these guys have been in prison so long that they’re burnt out on the gym, and sports like basketball and football are just too much for them.” So Kelly decided to introduce pickleball to the prison.
Since last April the prison has had 6 tournaments and Kelly plans on introducing it to Angola Prison in hopes of tournaments between the two down the road. “This is a sport for everyone,” said Kelly, “young and old, no matter where you are in life.”