Seniors Excel at Pickleball

Seniors Excel at Pickleball

Tennis has it's Arthur Ashe. In football, there's Bart Starr, Gayle Sayers or Joe Montana. On the Northern Virginia pickleball circuit, it's Henry Morin, a 75-year-old retired senior at Greenspring Village. He's a man to be reckoned with on the Senior Olympics pickleball court.

"It's real popular with the seniors," Morin said. "I played this last year and got the gold medal."

Now Morin leads a pickleball team at Greenspring that competes with teams out of George Mason University, Vienna Community Center, the Thomas Jefferson Community Center in Arlington, and a team in Alexandria.

"I'm getting a group ready to go to the Senior Olympics," Morin said.

Pickleball is played on a court similar to a badminton court, but the net is only 3 feet high. The court is narrower than tennis, so there is less running. The paddle is wood like a squash racquet, and the ball is a plastic whiffle ball. It can be played as singles or doubles, and the game is scored like ping pong. Only the serving team can score.

"It's faster than tennis," Morin said.

The game came out of the state of Washington in the 1980s. Past U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard, R-Wash., had a dog named "Pickles," as the story goes, and he chased the ball when they played. When the players called the dog to return the ball, the name stuck. Now there is a U.S. Pickleball Association. On its Web site, the Association claims that the game "builds self esteem for youngsters, provides competitive competition for active athletes and is like the fountain of youth for older players."

Morin vouches for the benefit that pickleball has for seniors.

"It's great for mature people," he said.

Morin was introduced to the sport in 1993 by a George Mason University aerobics instructor. The instructor demonstrated the game after an aerobics session, Morin tried it, and he was hooked.

"He showed me the game, and four years later I was playing in the Senior Olympics," Morin said.

The Senior Olympic tournament takes place in September at the Arlington Community Center, according to Jessie Barnes at the Center.

"We hold the Senior Olympics here. They have to put in a facilities request," Barnes said.

In Arlington, the cost to pickleballers is $20 a year. Judy Massabny works for the Office of Senior Adults in Arlington. She sees the dedication of the seniors.

"It's a very healthy sport for seniors. The folks that play this are very committed," Massabny said.

It's also a social thing for the seniors of Arlington.

"They all know each other. There is a lot of camaraderie for these folks," she said.

In Vienna, an impromptu senior group plays at the community center every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m. Nancy Riddel works at the center.

"It's a free program. The ones that are in there have been playing for years," she said.

The center reserves a space in the gym for the game but does not supply paddles or a ball.

"It's a drop-in program," Riddel said.