Pickleball Points

I have watched our pickleball courts sit empty during the coronavirus quarantine, and it caused me to reflect on the benefits of pickleball in our communities.

Over the last decade, farm fields near me have been turned into community after community of row after row of homes, most offering one-floor living for recent retirees. Without pickleball, can you imagine what it would have been like to move into Sussex County, or any retirement community, leaving your children to their lives in the surrounding metropolitan areas, and then, in the golden years of your life, meeting completely new strangers?

The only solution would have been to “Happy Hour” yourself to death. Yes death! I enjoy Happy Hour as much as anyone, but in reason. As I was talking with some health professionals recently, I asked what were the major health problems for people hitting retirement age. Pickleball can help all of them.

Heart disease and cancer each kills more than 600,000 (1.2 million) Americans a year, and almost another half million have high blood pressure. It’s estimated that obesity is at epidemic levels — 41 percent of Americans are obese. To put this in perspective, as I wrote this article, the CDC was reporting that 2,000 Americans had died from the coronavirus.

When I inquired as to what were the major factors contributing to heart disease, here was the laundry list from the CDC. Number one was diabetes, and there are 34 million people with diabetes, and 7 million don’t even know they have it. When I inquired at the CDC how to control diabetes — “There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes, but losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active can really help.” Also listed was excessive alcohol — too many Happy Hours maybe? And what contributed to excessive alcohol — depression and loneliness!

The next listed contributors to heart disease and cancer were too much weight, too little physical activity and poor diet.

Pickleball brings a community together. There are no strangers in pickleball because pickleball executes loneliness! You seriously can’t play pickleball without laughing. Every week someone tells me about all the nice people they met playing pickleball, that they would never have met without pickleball. People actually thank me for writing these pickleball articles and introducing them to the sport.

As far as activity, you seriously can’t play pickleball without routinely putting well in excess of 10,000 steps on your Apple phone or Fitbit. Several years ago, PBS came down from Philadelphia and produced a special on this new game pickleball at the courts in Lewes. The producer asked me to round up the players with qualified health benefits from Pickleball. I lined them up in single file for 40 feet and PBS selected them at random. Here were some of their comments: “Saved my life,” “Lost 80 pounds,” “Off all meds,” “Doctor can’t believe it.” That, my friends, is what pickleball brings to your community. It doesn’t matter if you are good or bad because pickles come in all sizes and shapes — laughing all the way!

Which brings me back to Lewes. There was quite an unfortunate ruckus in Lewes recently between the pickleball crowd and the tennis crowd about those very courts where we filmed the PBS piece. My tennis credentials are as good as anyone, and I salute everyone attempting to stay healthy via sport, but I cannot begin to understand how the tennis community can take potshots at pickleball. Likewise, I can’t support pickleball taking potshots at tennis. Our mutual enemies are the conditions that lead to more than a million people dying each year, and both pickleball and tennis can help alleviate them. Think WAC: Weight, Alcohol and Couches! Let’s take all this stored positive energy from not playing pickleball, and let’s whack WAC. Pickleball whacks WAC: Weight, Alcohol and Couches!

It’s a fact: excess weight, excess alcohol and inactivity are killers! Let’s do something about it. We need to seriously develop some pickleball centers here, as well as in other communities. Please write me and put “WAC” in the subject line if you would like to participate in a regional “All pickles on deck” effort to address the problem of insufficient regional pickleball facilities. There is strength in numbers — especially when we are the numbers contributing to the regional taxes and growing economy, and most especially since we are the seniors in the cross hairs of these deadly statistics.

Note: Statistics are from Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 2017.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, a public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.