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Pickleball players bond over shared love of sport

Members of Perham’s unofficial pickleball group are, left to right: Margaret Olson, Dave Connel, Alan Oltmanns, Mick Kester, Donna Connel, Carol Bucholz, Marion Krueger, Terry Anderson, Bill Krueger, Jerry McCullen and Rodger Scheltsad. Not pictured is Dwight Olson. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Elizabeth Huwe

Lovers of the game call it the fastest growing sport in America: pickleball.

While it’s title as “fastest growing” might be up for dispute, a group of Perham-area residents just want to play ball.

Pickleball was created in 1965 by three fathers – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum – as a summertime game for their children. Supposedly, the game was named for the Pritchards’ family dog, Pickles, who would often interrupt the game by running off with the ball.

However it got its name, pickleball is a sport that combines many elements from tennis, badminton and ping pong, without a complex list of rules to master or expensive equipment to buy.

“We actually learned to play this game in California in the wintertime,” said Bill Krueger of how he and his wife, Marion, got involved in the sport. The Kruegers started playing pickleball in Moorhead, Minn., and Fargo, N.D., during the summer.

It’s a popular game among senior citizens who winter in the south, where outdoor activities are more practical, said Bill. From there, the game has spread north with its fans.

When Bill and Marion moved to Perham in 2012, they brought their fondness for the game along with them.

In Perham, pickleball players gather every morning at the Arvig Park tennis courts, when the weather is good, to play on weekdays from 8 to about 10 a.m.

“Now, our numbers have grown to where we have both courts full and people standing,” Bill said, crediting Perham Rotary and the city for resurfacing the courts and adding yellow pickleball lines, helping the group to grow even faster.

Members of the Perham pickleball group range in age from their 30s to 80s, said Terry Anderson, who also plays with the group.

Margaret Olson said she started playing a month ago, after being invited to join in several times while out on morning walks. So she did, and has been enjoying it ever since.

“They’re such a welcoming group,” Margaret said.

“We’re always looking for more players,” said Bill. “All that’s needed is a pair of tennis shoes.”

The group has plenty of equipment that they share with newcomers who want to try the sport.

On the narrow court, players use solid paddles, which look like jumbo-sized ping pong paddles, to hit a whiffle-like ball over a low net.

When serving, the ball must go across to the opposite corner of the court and bounce once within the lines. From there, the opposing player must return the ball, also with a bounce.

After that, the ball is smacked back and forth in a free-for-all until it bounces more than once or lands out of bounds. Games are played to 11 points, with points being scored only by the serving side.

“It’s very addictive,” said Bill as the game’s thwacking sound echoed back and forth along with the scuffling of feet.

“Once you start playing, you can’t hardly leave it alone.”

A “kitchen” area is included on either side of the net, where players are not allowed to go until the ball lands in that space.

“The reason for that area is to keep you from getting up to the net and slamming it (the ball) into somebody’s face,” Bill explained.

Fans of the game can usually find a suitable court by using the USA Pickleball Association’s website. The site has a “places to play” listing, which now includes Perham. The association claims that the number of places to play has doubled since 2010 to now include more than 2,000 locations.