Pickleball Points

I’m writing this article on the morning of my 56th wedding anniversary. I am in a reflective mood and counting my blessings, and as I ponder, I can’t help but look at how pickleball influenced the last part of our married lives.

Just six years ago, time and again, I had to explain what pickleball was. One (definitely overpaid) area marketing executive said the game would never catch on. A politician, while wearing high heels, grabbed my paddle and started to hit balls against the wall in the office. Marketing folks at an area hospital fell asleep during a presentation while Kathy Casey and I were explaining why the hospital should care about the health benefits of pickleball.

Now they all know about pickleball, and probably play it.

In the last five years, our area has enjoyed an explosion in pickleball. Why is that important? Because pickleball has brought community after community together. Folks move here and, in some cases, literally know no one, but just three months later, they are part of a pickleball posse who become friends and have their back when a health problem strikes. By and far, all of these pickleballers are first-rate, responsible, top-quality folks — the kind you like to befriend.

A few years ago, it was local pickleball news when area players just qualified for state and regional pickleball tournaments. Now our regional players, such as Ocean View’s Chic Stearrett’s in the recent Gold in Delaware Senior Olympics, climb all over the winner platforms at these events. Wow! It was just a few years ago when the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) did a special on our pickleball growth? I then lined players down the entire length of a tennis court, and all of them had incredible health improvement claims: “Saved my life, lost 70 pounds, reduced meds, off meds completely…”

As I reflect on health, responsible community pickleball played a major role in keeping residents fit and socialized during the COVID epidemic. Eighteen months ago, as I tried to keep you focused on the benefits of pickleball exercise, I wrote “Heart disease and cancer each kill more than 600,000 (1.2 million) Americans a year, and almost another half-million have high blood pressure.” Now, almost every community is exercising and laughing.

I still remember making a proposal to my own homeowners’ association about painting lines on our tennis courts. Now, about every two weeks, another community contacts me via the Coastal Point and asks for my opinion on how to get their courts up to speed, how to best incorporate both tennis and pickleball into their community, or how to organize their play sessions.

Last week, Seagrove at Bethany Beach expressed thanks to the Ocean View Crew for their help in getting a pickleball program started in their community, and they already have more than a dozen players assembling every morning. I did a basic introduction this week to another Ocean View community, and they are quickly going to be a factor in area pickleball.

Just think, Coastal Community Pickleball League (CCPL) was just an idea several years ago. Steve Costa and 18 of his community team captains recently reported they were ready to play but will not start the league up again until next spring, because of the COVID variants.

The Town of Millville built three dedicated pickleball courts with lights this past spring, and those courts are busy all the time now. I told the past mayor, Steve Maneri, if you build them, they will come. Thanks for your leadership, Mr. Mayor.

And in the last few years, we now have certified instructors teaching pickleball. They know I can be especially critical of instructors, but I definitely have to give a nod to Rick Bell and Jeff Sheetz, who have developed effective pickleball teaching techniques. Darryl Noble at Ocean Pines, Md., has his accreditation, and I feel confident he is giving top-notch lessons.

Speaking of Ocean Pines, Darryl is organizing our area’s first professional tournament, on Oct. 20-22 at Ocean Pines, and I’ll be there to chat about paddles. Talking about stepping up to the plate, I’m awarding three Golden Pickles to their volunteers at Ocean Pines who really outdid themselves this past year in giving this area a prime pickleball facility!

I acknowledge that I quietly have been a critic the last several years of the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC), because I did not think they were doing enough for pickleball players across Delaware to warrant membership. But they have turned a corner in that department, and I want to award them two Golden Pickles.

In addition to their sponsored clinics last month, they now have started a competitive venue and were able to put 80 competitive players on the courts last week, and that will continue for several months. Just think — we didn’t have 80 pickleballers in the entire county five years ago.

You might remember that in the summer I was writing about their successful FSPC fundraiser to install lights at the courts behind John M. Clayton Elementary School. FSPC, like CCPL, are volunteer organizations, and I want to express my special gratitude to all of those — too many to name — who have organized these efforts.

As my readers wade into pickleball, I suggest you give Ocean Pines or First State Pickleball at least a glance to see if they might assist your journey into this great sport.

We all should be proud of our area accomplishments for pickleball: thousands of players, courts at almost every community, a professional tournament, top-notch certified instruction, health improvement stories, great friendships and those many others we have unknowingly helped. All we need now is a full-time indoor pickleball center. Build it, and they will come!

Thank you to all of us, and a special salute to Mr. Pickleball.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is 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.