Ginny Honomichl played basketball for Kansas State University, then coached tennis for 38 years. So when a friend suggested that she try pickleball, she jumped at the chance to compete in something new - even though she didn't quite know what it was.
“I went up (to Lawrence) with nothing other than wanting to know how to play the game," said Honomichl, of Baldwin City. "Someone loaned me a paddle and I was hooked."
In Lawrence and across the nation, seniors are picking up a paddle to play pickleball.
Pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis. It's played with a hard paddle, a plastic ball similar to a wiffle ball and on a badminton court with a lowered net. Typically the game is played as a doubles set.
Although the sport isn’t as known as tennis or badminton, Douglas County's pickleball programs are gaining popularity through word of mouth.
Evan Jorn is the Lawrence pickleball ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association. Only a few others were knocking the ball around on the court when he first started playing at the Lawrence Senior Center in 2007, Jorn said. Now, he organizes and schedules daily pickleball meetups at parks and recreation centers in Lawrence. With help from the City of Lawrence Park and Recreation department and word of mouth, he has a list of more than 100 people getting Lawrence pickleball updates by email.
“Nationwide it’s really growing fast, especially in retiring communities,” Jorn said. “The growth spurt is definitely in the senior population. They’ve been teaching it in high schools as part of the lifetime sports curriculum, but it hasn’t taken off with that population.”
Part of the reason it’s become so popular with seniors is that the smaller court and playing with a partner make it easier to finish a game without getting too worn out.
Michael Hogue, a 65-year-old Baldwin City resident, comes to Lawrence to play pickleball five times a week.
“I used to play tennis and racquetball but had my hip replaced three years ago,” he said. “Now I like it because the court is … a reduced size and with four people playing I don’t have to run as far.”
Pickleball may not be rigorous, but it can still be competitive.
Honomichl and four other Lawrence residents are traveling to Cleveland in July to compete in the National Senior Games after qualifying through the Kansas Senior Olympics.
Jorn said beginners and competitors are welcome to join the free, organized pickleball meets in Lawrence. There is play every day at either Lyons Park, Holcom Park or the East Lawrence Recreation Center, but the places and times change based on weather and scheduling conflicts.
Baldwin City has pickleball meetups from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Thursday at the Baker University tennis courts.
To view the current Lawrence pickleball schedule and to find other Kansas pickleball meet-ups, visit the USA Pickleball Association website, http://usapa.org/ptp/index.php?code=KS.