About two years ago, a local senior volleyball team, headed by Don Voisinet, played in the National Volleyball Senior Championships in Houston and won the silver medal.

While there, Voisinet saw a game called pickleball and he was thrilled at the way the game was played. He came back to Buffalo and started a pickleball group at the Third Warders Club in North Tonawanda. Everyone who started playing the game loved it.

There are now five locations in Western New York. The United States Pickleball Association estimates that there over 100,000 active Pickleball players in the nation.

Voisinet noted that pickleball was started by three friends in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Wash. Joe Pritchard, a congressman, and his friends returned to Joe’s home after a round of golf. When they arrived there, they saw that their families were just lounging around. They decided to get a badminton game going but they couldn’t find a birdie. They lowered the net and used some plywood paddles to hit the wiffle ball.

The wiffle ball that they used was the ball that the family dog who was named Pickles loved to play with. While the families were playing, Pickles would continually run onto the court after the ball and would try to hide it. So, they named the game they were playing pickleball. Although there have been other rumors as to how the name of the game came to be, that is the most popular version.

Pickleball is played with a hard paddle and a wiffle ball that is smaller and faster than a regular wiffle ball. The court has dimensions that are similar to a badminton court. The approximate size of the court is 20 by 44 feet for both singles and doubles. The net is 34 inches high in the middle – the same as a tennis court. Although pickleball is somewhat similar to tennis, there are some notable differences. A pickleball typically travels at about one-third of the speed that a tennis ball travels at and the court is about two-thirds the size of a tennis court.

One of the big differences from tennis is that all serves must be hit underhand. The serve must be hit diagonally to the service box across the net. The serving side can only win points when their opponent fails to return a ball, strikes the ball out of play or moves into the non-volley zone that is seven feet from the net. Simply stated, shots in the non-volley zone may not be taken out of the air. They may, however, be struck on a bounce. To hit a ball in the air, a player must be behind the non-volley zone before playing the volley. The team that reaches 11 points first and is ahead by at least two points wins the game. Most matches are the first to win two sets.

The return of service must bounce and cannot be volleyed. This is a major change from tennis, where many teams in doubles rely on a strong serve and then a putaway volley from their partner who is stationed at the net. Therefore, the server and his or her partner, in most cases, usually stay at the baseline until the ball is returned, has been hit back and bounced once before they approach the net.

At the start of the game in doubles, the serving side is allowed only one fault before their side is out. After that, their opponents are allowed to serve. After that, each side is allowed two faults, one with each team member serving. This allows each side to always be one serve ahead, behind, or tied.

In singles play, each side gets only one fault before a sideout and then the opponent gets to serve. The server’s score will always be even when serving from the right side and odd from the left side.

Why is the game so popular? Coley Felser, an avid pickleball player, was involved with Nichols School athletics for over 40 years.

“I was a fair tennis player,” Felser said. “I had a decent serve and fair backhand. When I was in Florida a couple of years ago, I saw pickleball being played and how popular it was. When I watched people play, I was enthralled by the play and what a great workout it was. I actually took some lessons and I was hooked. I now play at least three times a week and get a great workout. … pickleball is a game that is great fun.”

For further information as to where to play and purchase equipment, call Felser at 472-7030 or Voisinet at 812-0196.