Pickleball, one of the country's fastest growing sports, has bounced into Cedar Crest, an Erickson Senior Living community in Pompton Plains, N.J. Thanks to a resident-led, staff-supported effort, the on-site fitness center now has an official pickleball court, net, paddles, balls, and a ton of new, energetic devotees.
"Our pickleball court is in our multipurpose room, along with shuffleboard, table tennis, and all of our fitness classes," says Cedar Crest Fitness Manager Jennifer Schweizer.
Pickleball's popularity has spiked within the last five years, according to USA Pickleball, but the sport was invented almost 60 years ago in the Seattle, Wash., area.
It quickly became a favorite pastime in retirement communities because of its similarity to other racquet games, such as tennis, badminton, racquetball, and table tennis. But differences in the paddle, ball, court size, and rules make it a bit easier to play.
"The ball doesn't move as quickly, so players have more time to respond," Schweizer says. "It's like a Wiffle ball, which is hard, so it doesn't bounce as much. With the court being smaller, players are covering less square footage, which results in more reaction time and the ability to get their feet underneath them. And, it's fun!"
Cedar Crest resident Michael Southwell got the group started, and it's now grown to include more than 15 regular players.
Before moving to the community almost three years ago, Michael had played pickleball for years - even at the New Jersey Senior Olympics. As a fan of other racquet sports, including squash, tennis, badminton, racquetball, and table tennis, he was determined to give this new racquet game the recognition it deserved.
"I was involved from the very first bit of planning, and now I am serving as the unofficial group leader," Michael says. "I get new players integrated into the group and, informally, instruct everybody on how to play - if needed."
One of the many advantages of living at an Erickson Senior Living community like Cedar Crest is the ability to start groups or activities - based on any interest - with ease. With the support of staff, residents can pursue their passions and share them with others.
"As a community, we take pride in having so many people willing to share their gifts and ideas. Many residents come to us and say, 'Here's what we want to do,'" says Cedar Crest Sales Director Ray Guarino. "Prospective residents can easily look at the community calendar and identify so many activities they're interested in."
Finding new friends
For Ann Whitestone, the community's interest in pickleball has been a game-changer. As a New York native and former paddle tennis player, Ann moved to Cedar Crest from Manhattan in 2016, where she played outdoors year-round - except in icy or slippery conditions.
"I was really thrilled when Cedar Crest began indoor pickleball," Ann says. "I started playing when they first began. I'm loving it!"
According to the Parade magazine article, "10 Things You Need to Know About Pickleball, the Sport Everyone in the U.S. Is Playing Right Now," pickleball is also popular because of its relaxed, social qualities.
No one knows that better than residents David Lewis and Helen Buckley, who met by playing pickleball at Cedar Crest.
At 89 - and an active tennis player - David began looking for another sport that would keep him active, but with less impact.
"The tennis players I know are including pickleball in their activities," David says. "It's nowhere near as strenuous, but people move, and that's good for them. They're using hand-eye coordination, getting their blood moving. It's a very healthy activity for people our age."
Helen, a former tennis player, had never played pickleball before moving to Cedar Crest in 2014 - but was happy to find the resident-led group.
"I was interested because I like racquet games," says Helen. "I wanted to find something to do on Sundays. So when I found out, I went down and joined the pickleball group. They were very willing to teach me how to play, and I've been playing ever since!"
"David and I had a lot in common and a lot to talk about," Helen adds. "He asked me to play a game with him - because he was a tennis player, too - and we got to know each other. I met a whole new circle of people to hang out with. It's been great!"
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