Having a ball with Pickleball in Louisa

Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Jim Oppy, a former tennis player, has now picked up the sport of pickleball at age 72 as a way to stay in shape. He is frequently seen wearing one of his favorite shirts, which he won at a recent pickleball tournament.

Jim Oppy, a former tennis player, has now picked up the sport of pickleball at age 72 as a way to stay in shape. He is frequently seen wearing one of his favorite shirts, which he won at a recent pickleball tournament.

The scene is set. The score is deadlocked at five, and the doubles team of Susie Rayburn and John Hayes are looking to break the tie. After a slicing serve by Hayes forces the receiving team into an awkward return, the ruthless southpaw Rayburn smashes a winner down the left sideline.

The opposing team has no chance. Point to the service team.

But Rayburn and Hayes aren’t playing tennis, nor are they world-class athletes.

In reality, they’re both older than 65, and they’re playing a game that is the fastest growing sport in America.

It’s “the game with the funny name.” It’s pickleball, to be precise.  Contagious across the country, the sport is now alive and well in Louisa County.

“Addicting. That’s the one word that everybody agrees on for what it’s like,” said Annette Hayes in between one of her games at the Betty Queen Intergenerational Center.

Annette Hayes has been instrumental in bringing the game to Louisa. Introduced to the sport last year, she and her friend, Sarah Kirby, first started a weekly class for the game on May 21.

Originally, the group played outdoors, but after a few discussions with Louisa County Parks and Recreation Director Jane Shelhorse, they relocated their tri-weekly matches to the Betty Queen Center in July, and it’s been a love affair ever since.

“It took about one day for me,” 72-year-old Jim Oppy said with a laugh when asked how long it took to develop a passion for the sport.

While the game’s name is peculiar and perplexing, its rules and layouts are mostly familiar, as the sport is generally considered a mixture of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Pickleball is played on a surface slightly smaller than a single’s tennis court, just 20 by 44 feet instead of tennis’ 27 by 78 feet dimensions. Using wooden paddles slightly larger than those used in ping-pong, competitors smack around a wiffle ball over a 34-inch high net, which encourages players to instill a little extra spin in their shots.

Those configurations make pickleball a sport that relies on strategy not strength, taking age and athleticism, for the most part, out of the picture. That being said, it’s still surprisingly strenuous, though those competing don’t seem to mind.

To read the entire story, see the May 29 edition of The Central Virginian.

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