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Lynners keep a quirky tradition alive with a pickleball league

Diane Jordan playing a game of pickleball with Gary Webber and Norm White at the Clark Street playground. (Owen O'Rourke)

Pickleball has taken hold in East Lynn and, if Lauren James and her fellow players have any say in the matter, it’s a sport that is here to stay.

On Mondays and Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Thursday at 4 p.m., James and fellow pickleballers converge on the two courts inside the Lance Cpl. Bradley J. Campus Playground at the end of Clark Street to play a sport that boasts a national following and its own association providing information on the game and tournaments.

With a court much smaller than a tennis court and an underhand serve rule, pickleball sets the stage for a fast-paced racquet game offering minimal wear and tear on middle-aged bodies.

“It’s a great way to keep fit and everyone is so nice,” said James, a Marblehead resident.

Fellow player Diane Jordan said the casual fun atmosphere around a pickleball court brought her back to the game after initially trying it. A tennis player, she likes the quick back-and-forth pace of pickleball mixed with the come-one-come-all attitude.

Newcomers to the game are encouraged to pick up a paddle, and play rotates between players who assemble on the courts on any given day.

Jordan described games as “a friendly feud” while Joe Skeadas called pickleball a cross between badminton, ping pong and tennis.

“It’s quick, there’s a lot of hand-eye coordination involved,” Skeadas said.

The paddles resemble those for ping pong, only bigger. Beginners bat the Wiffle ball-size pickleball back and forth across the net like ping pong players learning the game’s pace. Good pickleball players put pace, spin and curves on the ball.

“Any shape, size person can play. It’s great. I have about eight friends who play,” Jordan said.

Rules are posted on the USA Pickleball Association’s website. Like other racquet sports, the game can be played single or double, but doubles matches are more common.

Serves are underhanded and must land in the main court area between the baseline and a zone in front of the net known as “the kitchen” where volleying is prohibited. In doubles play, the two teammates alternate serves. The serving team scores points but if the server commits a fault, the serve goes to the other team.

Games typically go to 11 points although James and her friends play to 9 in order to shorten games so everyone can play.

Association rules are detailed and involved, but Jordan said the game’s attraction is instantaneous.

“I said, ‘what is pickleball’ and then I came down and played and I was hooked,” she said.

Clark has two courts; one is in disrepair, and pickleballers are working with city officials to get it repaired. Other courts in Salem and Marblehead get plenty of use, including one at the Marblehead Senior Center where James said she was introduced to the game.

“The game is growing. I’d like to get them into Kiley Playground,” Skeadas said.

Swampscott resident Norman White said pickleball is easy to learn and provides a good variation on other physical activities. He’s played for two years.

“It’s a healthy addiction,” said White.

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