The sweet game of Pickleball

DIANA ABRUSCATO (center) discusses the game at Chapman Sports Complex in Garden Grove. At left is Assistant City Manager Maria Stipes; at right is Maureen Blackmun (OC Tribune photos).

By Jim Tortolano/Orange County Tribune

It took several generations to become an overnight sensation. It’s named after a dog. And it’s everywhere.

Pickleball is its name and it arrived outdoors in Garden Grove with three courts debuting at the Chapman Sports Complex at Chapman Avenue and Knott Street this week.\

An amalgam of tennis, badminton and ping pong, an estimated 36.5 million people play the sport, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals. You can see it played on a high school tennis court and on ESPN.

“It’s a game that can be played at any age,” said Diana Abruscato, a player, coach, organizer and evangelist for the sport.

RUSSELL JENSEN and Tribune general manager Marilyn Tortolano show how it’s done.

“It’s intergenerational. Youth and adult and grandma can all play together.”

There are several theories as to how the sport was named, but the most commonly accepted one is that in 1965 a family in Puget Sound invented the game as a lark, and when the ball bounced free, the family dog – Pickles – would chase it down.

While it’s similar to tennis, it’s quite different in some ways. “It’s a smaller court, the paddle does not have strings and the ball is a ‘whiffle’ ball,” said Russell Jensen, another top-flight pickleballer. “It’s probably more fun than tennis and it’s easier on the knees.” Part of its growth is that you can fit a pickleball court in a relatively small space. “Everything is about one-third the size of a tennis court,” said Abruscato. “The ball is lighter and the net is a little lower than a tennis net. It’s a microcosm of tennis.”

A recent convert to the sport is Maureen Blackmun, a well-known community leader. “I like it because it’s a team sport, it gets me out and brings me joy when the ball goes over the net,” she said.

Leave a Reply