Pickleball is gaining popularity in Clearwater

Clearwater, Florida -- Would you play a sport called pickleball?

In Clearwater, the fast-growing game has become extremely popular.

"The younger folks are getting a clue to what's going on here and they've coming and loving it," said Patricia Vanhise.

Vanhise was easily one of the oldest players at the Long Center Thursday morning playing pickleball, which is like a mix of racquetball and tennis all played on a basketball gym floor.

Think life-sized ping pong.

"It's a lot of running," said Clearwater firefighter Kyle Mueller, a mid-20s player who plays pickleball for exercise on his days off. "Just because I'm young doesn't mean I'm any better than them."

Pickleball is played with a standard whiffle ball, graphite or wooden paddles that are close in size to a racquetball raquet and a net that is about three feet off the floor. Games typically consist of two players on each side of the net. One player per team serves to start the game and the scoring is similar to ping pong.

Vanhise and Mueller both play at the Long Center at 1501 Belcher Road, but pickleball has popped up all over the city.

"It has exploded," said Anna Gurney, the Public Information Coordinator for the city of Clearwater. "It went from it being virtually unknown in Clearwater to all of our facilities now offering it and at the times that they offer it, it's full. There's a waiting line."

If you want to learn to play, the Long Center will hold an Open House event Saturday, Feb. 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It's a free family-friendly event, open to the public with games, free access to the indoor Olympic-sized pool and training room, plus giveaways and demonstrations, including a pickleball demonstration.

Pickleball is offered at four of the City of Clearwater Recreation Centers including:

The Long Center (727-793-2320) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,

Countryside Recreation Center (727-669-1914) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,

Beach Recreation Center (727-462-6138) on Tuesdays and Thursdays,

Ross Norton Recreation Center (727-462-6025) on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

During the month of February, the Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex will offer free classes on pickleball on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Call (727) 669-1919 for information or to sign up.


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