SELMA – Selma’s Ken Robison realizes that along with wisdom, age also brings a few more aches and pains.
“Us baby boomers are getting older now and our knees and our hips and our backs are hurting,” Robison said.
However, the need for physical and social activity is still crucial. To meet that need, Robison is offering to share his love of the game of pickleball for anyone aged 12 and older during a series of free clinics during the month of July.
The clinics are 9-10 a.m. Tuesdays at Brentlinger Park at the pickleball courts just north of the tennis courts.
The game of pickleball was invented in 1965 by three Washington dads whose kids were bored with their usual summer activities, according to the USAPA Pickleball website.
It’s called pickleball because one of the wives of the men, Joan Pritchard, said it reminded her of “the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.” Also, the Pritchards had a family dog named Pickles who would often chase the ball and run off with it.
However the game got its name, its popularity is spreading across the U.S. and Canada. Locals have been playing the game for almost a decade now.
Robison started playing pickleball with some of his former tennis buddies in Fowler at least nine years ago. To play in Selma, they painted lines to mark the smaller courts and then eventually the city of Selma built new courts that accommodate four games.
While the first clinic was officially June 3, no newbies showed up. However an avid group of players were already there as they meet at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays during the summers to beat the heat and play for two hours typically. In winter, they meet at 9 a.m.
Robison played tennis back in high school and then coached the sport for 55 years.
“This game appeals to us baby boomers that have been playing tennis our whole lives but can’t move around as much anymore. I was never really super quick and in this game, there’s not much running,” he said.
Since four pickleball courts can fit in the space taken up by one tennis court, players wind up doing much less running in this sport.
Robison said the thought processes are similar between the two sports so those who’ve played tennis or racquetball can make the transition easily. For those who haven’t played any of the games, the rules are pretty straightforward to learn, he said.
“A lot of these people playing today did not [play tennis beforehand]. It’s an easy game to learn so I thought we’d get this clinic going.”
Instead of racquets, paddles are used and instead of a bouncy tennis ball players use wiffle balls that have holes in them and are less bouncy.
“Since you have more control over the ball, it doesn’t fly. Beginning tennis players spend more of the time chasing balls. Beginning pickleball players spend more of their time hitting the ball.”
During the clinics, Robison will go over all the rules of the game, teach participants how to hold the paddle correctly and then players will play games and keep score.
“For one thing, players hit with an underhand serve and then it’s similar to tennis. Scoring is up to 11 and you only get a point when you have the ball. It’s like how volleyball used to be.”
Selma’s Rotary has sponsored the equipment for new participants and newly installed President Yvette Montijo stopped by to see how the clinic was going. She’s sees the event as the perfect combination of the city, a local nonprofit, civic group and private citizens teaming up to provide another fitness option to residents in town.
“This is a project that Rotary can do that can go full service. The courts belong to the city of Selma, but they received a grant from the Selma Health Care District to resurface the courts. And now you have Rotary getting involved and sponsoring the equipment and getting more people involved in being healthy. I think it’s a nice combination of a lot of entities coming together to make improved health and a sense of community.”
Both experienced and new players encouraged residents to come to the free clinics as they say the sport helps them keep fit without being too taxing on their joints.
Cirilo Medina, of Fowler, has played pickleball for nine years now. He describes the game to others as “giant ping-pong” and said while he felt a little awkward playing with a paddle at first, eventually it became more enjoyable and even helps with hand-eye coordination.
“The people are all fun and we have a good time. It’s a combination of physical activity and socializing. Everyone that plays is friendly. Also, you’d be surprised how quickly your reflexes start to tune up and you’re able to anticipate where the ball’s going to be and get to it.”
Medina said he’s noticed in his travels that the sport is becoming more popular and he and his wife, Yvonne Medina, find players everywhere they go.
“We’ve been back East and traveled cross country. Everywhere we go, we find a place to play and everybody’s friendly.”
Fresno’s Maxine Yoshimoto has been playing for a little less than a year but after watching her husband play competitively for years now, she wanted to join in the fun.
“I decided at 70 years old I’m not going to sit around anymore. Now I want to play. I enjoy the people that play pickleball and it’s actually a really welcoming group. Some of them may be better players, but they really welcome you into the game and share tips on how you can improve.”
Robison said he’s noticed most cities don’t offer competitive activities for seniors so he’s hoping more will take advantage of the courts, free instruction and access to provided equipment. Plus, it’s a game seniors and adults can play with their children and grandchildren, he said.
“I’m just trying to build the game and get more people to play. It’s a really easy game for kids to learn, and I like that I can stay competitive and socialize with people my own age. I don’t hike, play tennis or run, but I like this.”