Fastest growing sport catching on in a hurry in Biddeford
By Ben Meiklejohn
Carol Levesque and Ken Gobeil play pickleball at the J. Richard Martin Community Center. The gym is open for pickleball Mondays and Thursday from 8:30 to 11 a.m., and Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m. In June, games will be moved to Clifford Park during good weather days. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) BIDDEFORD – What’s been called the fastest growing sport in America has drawn local interest as more communities offer pickleball among their adult recreation programs. Invented in 1965 by Bill Bell, Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard, in Bainbridge Island, Washington, pickleball has earned a reputation as the sport for everyone.
Biddeford Recreation offers a chance to play it Mondays and Thursdays from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at the J. Richard Martin Community Center, and Fridays, 7 to 9 p.m. Starting June 1, however, the games will be played at Clifford Park on good weather days, and at the community center on rain days. A state pickleball tournament will be held in Portland June 23 to 26.
Gary Demmons serves a pickleball while teammate David Croteau watches. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Karen Simard said she has been playing pickleball with Biddeford Recreation for almost three years, since the department first started offering the activity.
“It’s a cross between tennis and ping pong and the court is smaller than a tennis court, the size of a badminton court,” Simard said. “I’m going to go watch the state tournament but I’m not going to be in it. It’s more social for me, not competitive.”
Marge Haley of Kennebunk said she heard of the sport from the 50+ Club and has made new friends playing it.
“I haven’t had as much fun in 15 years,” Haley said. “Nobody holds back.”
Ken Gobeil said one appeal of pickleball is that it’s a family sport that people of all ages can play.
“You have something that grandparents and kids can play together,” Gobeil said.
Simard said people in their 20s to 80s have come to play pickleball and Friday night sessions tend to have more younger participants. Gobeil said many surrounding communities – among them Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Springvale – offer pickleball.
“They got one in Saco, they got one everywhere … but you better be good in Sanford,” Gobeil said. “They’re really good over there.”
On Mondays, David Croteau plays pickleball in his wheelchair. Croteau was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair his entire life. Simard said Croteau doesn’t hold back and is as competitive as any other.
Although the players allow Croteau two bounces to hit the ball instead of one, Croteau said, “I usually try to get it in one bounce.”
Croteau said he has always been sports oriented and has played tennis and gone skiing with assistance from Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, an organization that provides adaptive recreational programs and sports for people with physical disabilities.
“I’ve learned to focus on what you can do,” Croteau said. “I learned to push forward no matter what. I’ve never been one to make excuses.”
Gobeil said Croteau is still going to spike the ball on you if he has a chance, and likewise, Croteau said players don’t play any easier on his account.
Brian Dunphe, program coordinator for Biddeford Recreation, said there is less running with pickleball than with tennis because of the court size. It offers the right amount of exercise without completely tiring players, he said.
“From my point of view, anybody can play,” Croteau said.
Gobeil said he’s looking forward to playing outdoors again. The pickleball is a plastic ball with holes in it, much like a Wiffle ball. Gobeil said the pickleball used for outside playing has smaller holes than the pickleball used inside to help keep it from getting carried away by the wind.
Simard said the sport was named after Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, who was known to grab the ball and run away with it.
“Pickleball has evolved from original hand-made equipment and simple rules into a popular sport throughout the U.S. and Canada,” Simard said. “The game is growing internationally as well with many European and Asian countries adding courts.”