As Sports Illustrated’s John Walters said in the magazine’s latest issue, “Wait, there’s a pickleball hall of fame?”
Yes, of course there are. In fact, there are two, although a merger appears to be underway. Eight years ago, I wrote an article in The Daily Gazette about the growing popularity of pickleball, so the sport’s meteoric rise didn’t totally surprise me.
But, wow – a big sports feature in a major sports magazine and two halls of fame? And then another story last week on pickleball in the Wall Street Journal.
Well, that would be enough to convince most people how much fun the sport can be, but I went outside and looked for even more confirmation. I found it in Chuck Poe and Dave Denny.
These two names are synonymous with the sport of tennis in the capital region. Poe and Denny, two of the best players to ever come out of the Capital Region, are now both avid pickleball players and were happy to tell me how quickly they got into the game.
“As soon as I discovered the sport, I loved it and was lucky to find a good group of people to play with right away,” Poe, a former Division II high school champion, told Shaker who continued to play. tennis at the Division I level at Cornell University. “When I first heard about it, I thought it was a sport for older people, but it’s not. Obviously, the courts are smaller, so there’s not as much area to cover, but you still have to do a lot of quick moves.
Poe turned 61 in April and doesn’t play much tennis these days. Denny, however, who turns 68 later this year and excelled at Bethlehem Central High and the University of Albany, continues to play a bit of tennis, his first love. Pickleball, however, can change all that, and it’s a little easier on his body.
“If you’ve played tennis your whole life, you’ll learn pickleball right away,” said Denny, whose mobility on the tennis court has been limited lately due to hip and knee issues. “If you’re even thinking about playing, I can tell you it’s a lot of fun and a great time. The strategy is similar to tennis, but there are a few nuances you need to learn. You pick up quickly to keep the ball low over the net. You bring it up to chest height and the stitch is done.
Although the sport has its share of singles players, the majority of people seem to enjoy doubles more. This is certainly the case for Poe and Denny, who in their relatively short time in the sport – less than five years – have already won some impressive doubles titles. Poe played with Latham’s Pete Bojarczuk to win a silver medal at the New York State Senior Doubles Championship at the USTA Tennis Center earlier this year, and last year Denny was partnered with Ken Henderson of Geneva to win the 55-plus men’s doubles title at the Daytona Beach Pickleball Classic.
The “creator” of pickleball is generally recognized as former US Congressman Joel Pritchard, who came up with the idea of combining certain elements of tennis with those of table tennis and badminton. The story goes that he was throwing a party for friends and planned to play badminton, but as it was time to go to the garden, he couldn’t find a shuttlecock. He improvised, used a wiffle ball and invented a new sport.
Pritchard, a two-term member of the House of Representatives and former lieutenant governor of Washington, thought it might be something the kids could enjoy. He was right, but just as it’s clearly not just for old people, it’s clearly not for children as well.
The game’s popularity grew, particularly in Florida and other southern states, often as an outlet for members of a community center, YMCA, and private health clubs.
Ray Rafael helped kick the pickleball movement into high gear more than a decade ago when he started a program at City View Church on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia. The YMCA of Glenville (formerly Parkside), meanwhile, was also one of the first local centers for pickleball, while this summer there will be plenty of pickleball action at Collins Park in Scotia and East Side Rec. in Saratoga Springs, to name just two. And there are many more.
Denny, who plays extensively at Faith Baptist Church on Glenridge Road in Rexford, said pickleball, like tennis, is a great social sport.
“There’s a great group of people at Faith Baptist, and it’s a great place to go play,” he said. “I met some really nice people who play pickleball. When I couldn’t move well and couldn’t play tennis, Ken Henderson took me to the Y in Glenville and we played for three and a half hours and loved it. It has been great for me.
In “Serving it Up”, we will continue to explore the game of pickleball throughout the year. I urge anyone looking for pickleball news in this space to email me at [email protected]
SCTA AND 15-LOVE OFFERING JUNIOR CLINICS
The Schenectady County Tennis Association and 15-Love, two organizations whose primary focus these days is serving the younger generation, will join forces again this year for its 2022 summer program at Collins Park.
Designed for ages 7 to 16, the first weekly session began on Tuesday and will end on Friday. The other one-week sessions will take place Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to noon. In case of rain, a catch-up date will take place on Friday of this week.
Local teaching professional Jim Neal, who also coaches Niskayuna High School’s varsity tennis teams, will lead the program, which will feature daily lessons, drills, games and a weekend tournament for each session. Participants are encouraged to bring their own balls – although balls are provided – as well as a bottle of water and a fruit snack.
The cost of the weekly session is $40. For more information, contact Barbara Schmitz at 518-374-7299.
The Empire State Senior Games Pickleball Tournament was held in Cortland last month.
The following is a list of Capital Region medalists.
Susan Bernardi of Albany (bronze in 60-64 and silver in 50-54); Niskayuna’s Ria Van Niekerk and Hagaman’s Cheryl Silverman (bronze in 55-59); Diane Keller of Burnt Hills (gold and gold in 75-79); Jane Williams and Bonnie Dandrea of Clifton Park (silver and silver in 75-79); Doreen Fowler of Schenectady and Marina Metzold of Schenectady (silver and silver in 55-59); Diane Selin of Round Lake and Regina Yang of Clifton Park (bronze and bronze in 55-59); Betty Bellinger of Saratoga Springs and Judy Carnavos of Schenectady (gold in 60-64); Julie West of Ballston Lake and Maryann Lee of Albany (silver in 60-64); Linda Kolnick of Fort Plain and Deborah Langevin of Warnerville (gold in 65-69); Kathleen Brown of Albany (silver in 65-69); Judith Desilva of Catskill and Linda Divinetz of Scotia (silver in 70-74).
Meg Cullinan of Saratoga Springs (gold and bronze in 60-64); Bonnie Dandrea of Clifton Park (gold and bronze in 75-79); Diane Selin of Round Lake (bronze in 55-59); Donna Dowling of Mechanicville (silver in 60-64);
Nick Zacharczenko of Ballston Lake (gold in 50-54); Thomas Bain of Albany (silver in 50-54; Kevin Schwenzfeier of Watervliet (bronze in 60-64); Ted Langenbahn of Schoharie (bronze in 65-69); Chris Van Niekerk of Niskayuna (gold and silver in 55-59) ; Steve Frye of Corinth (silver and bronze in 55-59); Frank Lee of Albany (bronze in 60-64; Michael Armstrong of Schenectady (bronze in 70-74); John Haher of Scotia (gold and gold in 80- 84) .
Roland Calingasan of Clifton Park (gold and silver in 75-79); Dale Norris of Clifton Park and John Haher of Scotia (gold and bronze in 80-84); Warren Crow of Glenville and Bill Fairchild of Scotia (bronze in 75-79); Chris Van Niekerk of Niskayuna (silver in 50-54); Victor Provenzan and John Rybaltowski of Clifton Park (bronze in 65-69); Ralph Tommasino and Art Hyde of Hoosick Falls (silver in 55-59); Steve Frye of Corinth and Bruce Petroski of Saratoga Springs (bronze in 50-54); Stanley Rosen of Loudonville and Martin Rowley of Latham (gold in 70-77).
Cheryl Silverman of Hagaman (gold in 65-69); Ria Van Niekerk and Chris Van Niekerk of Niskayuna (gold in 55-59); John Rybaltowski of Clifton Park (silver in 60-64); Diane Keller of Burnt Hills (gold in 75-79); Roland Calingasan of Clifton Park (silver in 75-79); Dale Norris of Clifton Park (gold and gold in 85-89); Regina Yang of Clifton Park and James Mazzoccone of Ballston Spa (gold in 55-59); Doreen Fowler of Schenectady (silver in 55-59); Judith Desilva of Catskill and Warren Crow of Glenville (bronze in 75-79).
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