- Associated Press
Sunday, November 22, 2020

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) - It might be an unusual name, but the sport of pickleball is gaining interest among people of all ages.

The game is a combination of a few sports, including tennis, table tennis and badminton.

The activity can be played around the state in Norfolk, Omaha, Lincoln and Fremont. Locals can play pickleball at the YMCA Tennis and Pickleball Center in Norfolk, which is located near Skyview Lake.

“It’s a fun family game, and it really is a sport made for anybody,” Barb Preusker told the Norfolk Daily News. “It is a cross-generational game.”

Preusker, the Norfolk YMCA marketing director, has been involved in the sport for six years and wants to continue to spread the activity to people in the Norfolk area.

“I figured out how to play the game, and now I help teach the basics of the sport through clinics,” Preusker said. “We will pull you in and teach you the ropes.”

Preusker said the game is just like a gigantic ping-pong table and people are able to stand on the table to play.

“It is a badminton sized court, and there are a lot of similarities to tennis,” she said.

Each point starts off by someone serving cross-court underhanded with an upward arc movement and hitting the ball while it is below the server’s belly button. There is a two-bounce rule, and the opponent returning has to let it bounce once before hitting it. Once the ball is returned to the serving side, the person receiving the ball has to then let it bounce once. After that, it is fair game and can be hit in the air or bounce once to win the point. There are usually at least four players on the court and split into two teams.

Games are normally played to 11 points and are decided by two or more points. Tournament games may be up to 15 or 21 points depending on the tournament.

While the point system is like ping-pong, players use a paddle to hit an oversized whiffle ball.

Pickleball players play in leagues and tournaments based on ratings. A beginner will start off with a 2.0 rating and can later get up to the pro level, which is a rating of 5.0.

Preusker is considered a 3.0 player and will play in tournaments around the state based on her rating.

Back in 2016, Preusker took second place at the Cornhusker State Games.

The YMCA in Norfolk hosts a league on Wednesdays from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. for players rated 2.0 to 4.0. There are about 18 people in the league who play on three courts, with four players on each court. While there are usually enough participants to fill the courts, the league is always looking for more people.

“It really is sport made for anybody. There is a lot of little rules and techniques we teach, then it is a matter of practicing,” Preusker said. “If I play three or four times a week, then I really start to improve.”

Preusker is in her early 60s, but players range in age from 30 all the way to people in their 70s, Preusker said.

“The ball is built to keep the game to go a little slower, and the game stays slow,” she said. “The integrity is there because they want seniors to be able to play.”

Jim Carretto, a former pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wisner, picked up pickleball in Phoenix with his brother-in-law and, when he moved to Norfolk, he was able to continue to play.

“There’s plenty of strategy that goes into the game,” Carretto said. “It’s great exercise, and it really gets you moving.”

Carretto has been involved with the sport over the past three years and plays five times a week. At the age of 66, Carretto has a 3.0 rating and continues to gain strong reflexes.

“When you think about the court, it’s half of a tennis court. There’s not as much running, and it will get you in shape,” Carretto said. “There’s enough running that you’ll be pretty tired at the end.”

It might seem like a strange and different game to play, but pickleball players such as Preusker encourage people of all ages to play.

“You have to be able to allow yourself to laugh, and you’ll have to allow yourself to laugh at other people because you are going to,” Preusker said. “The hardest thing has been trying to get people to try it. The name of the game is pickleball, so they wouldn’t take it serious. It’s a serious and competitive game, but it’s a fun game all put together.”

Members of the YMCA can play for free and the YMCA also started a 3.0 and under league on Fridays from 9 to 10 a.m. along with open play, which is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.

“Pickleball is loads of fun and, in turn, it can be good for your health,” Preusker said. “Pickleball specifically works on your balance and agility while it also offers the same benefits of other regular exercise (exercises that are a whole lot less fun).”

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