RutlandPickleball

John Diletto, left, and Gayle Ballou, center, exchange words with Larry Ballou, right, on the opposite side of the net during pickleball action at Monsignor Thomas Connor Memorial Park in Rutland.

Pickleball has been called the fastest growing sport in America and the explosion has not missed Rutland County.

A group of 16 to 20 gather three times a week at Rutland’s Monsignor Thomas Connor Park where the tennis courts have been marked for pickleball with yellow lines.

There is another group that plays regularly in Pittsford near the Police Academy.

One woman, who plays at both venues, said the players have a very different mindset in Pittsford.

“That is a very competitive group (in Pittsford) and this is a little more social,” she said.

That is the beauty of this burgeoning sport. You can hit the ball back and forth over the net without breaking a sweat or you can make the game as competitive as you want.

The woman said she and her husband also live in a community in Florida where there are 150 people in their pickleball club.

“It is huge and we are going to grow it here,” she said.

Lew Hoffman, the Vice President of the Ira Historical Society, sauntered in to play at the Meadow Street courts on Friday.

Chuck Finberg pointed him out.

“He is in his 80s and he has a wicked backhand,” Finberg said.

There are plenty of people playing pickleball in their 60s, 70s and 80s which is why the game is sometimes called “Boomer Tennis.”

Finberg began playing pickleball three or four years ago in California. Retired and living in Shrewsbury, he is doing all he can to cultivate its growth in and around Rutland.

“Chuck is the one who spearheaded the effort at St. Joe’s,” said Larry Ballou.

The College of St. Joseph was a pickleball destination during the winter months until COVID interrupted.

Larry and his wife Gayle love the game and are among the regulars at Meadow Street.

“It’s fun and it’s exercise,” Gayle said.

“You meet a lot of great people,” Larry said. “This is a tight-knit group. We feel pretty comfortable with each other.

Jay Ballou, related to Larry and Gayle, also showed up for the Friday morning session.

“It’s just fun. There is a little bit of competition but it’s just a lot of fun. It keeps you active,” Jay said. “In your older years, you have to keep moving.”

“We have outgrown the courts,” Finberg said.

The lines have been put down on two of the three Meadow Street tennis courts. Pickleball requires a smaller area than tennis so when the lines are painted on the third court, that will make six pickleball courts.

“It has been so successful. When we started here at Meadow Street we had four to six people. Now, we have 16 to 21,” Finberg said.

“It is an activity for any age and any level of ability.

“Four players can play a game and social distance. It’s outdoors. It is the perfect activity for these times.”

Finberg said he knows of someone in his 80s who was able to play the game shortly after hip replacement.

“You don’t have to chase the ball,” he said.

The smaller net, smaller court and polymer ball make it conducive to someone participating who does not regard themselves as an athlete.

There is even even a two-bounce rule for wheelchair players.

You can play a leisurely game purely for fun. Or you can take pickleball to a serious level. There are plenty of clinics and tournaments.

The Meadow Street courts are the same ones that the Mount St. Joseph Academy tennis team uses for its home matches in the spring.

Finberg envisions a day when pickleball will be a high school varsity sport and also believes it will someday become an Olympic competition.

The leaves are changing and players can now enjoy the sport with a spectacular backdrop of exploding colors.

But that also means winter will soon be creeping in and Finberg said there is a search for indoor venues to accommodate players during the cold months.

Vermont Sport & Fitness and Grand Slam Tennis are indoor Rutland venues with pickleball courts.

You can play it with the gusto and determination seen on the tennis courts of Wimbledon. Or you can play it with the casualness of a backyard badminton game where the score isn’t kept. It truly is a sport for all seasons, all ages and all abilities.

tom.haley

@rutlandherald.com

Follow Tom on Twitter: @RHSportsGuy

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