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Laugh if you must,
but pickleball is serious business for local ambassadors of the gameJust saying the word pickleball aloud could emit laughter from all corners of a room.
It's a funny word, yes, but it's no laughing matter for loads of players around the country.
Just ask Grand Rapids residents John and Jeanne Schowalter, local pickleball ambassadors who will demonstrate the sport they picked up a few years ago in Surprise, Ariz.
"I think the sport probably would have grown quicker if they hadn't named it that. It sounds like a children's game," said John Schowalter, a retired auctioneer from Kalamazoo. "Some people in Washington named the sport after their dog Pickles."
The pair will join Dick Draigh and representatives from the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department for a pickleball demonstration 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Belknap Park tennis courts, 30 Coldbrook St. NE. Another demonstration will be held at the same time and place June 17.
"Some people just encouraged us to give it a try. We did, and we liked it," Schowalter said. "One of the reasons we like it is because it's competitive, yet social, where people just really have a lot of fun playing it.
"Pickleball is more verbal, more noisy than tennis. It's a very social game. Most people that start playing it get addicted. You build a community relationship."
Schowalter, 63, said the RV park near Phoenix where they stay in the winter now has 80 pickleball players.
"It's an extremely fast-growing sport in the adult community, but is now being taught in junior high and high school," he said. "Some RV parks have up to 600 players.
Schowalter, who gave up golf for pickleball, said tennis players convert to the sport well.
"Anybody that ever had a racket in their hand," he said. "We're finding that more and more young people are playing it. It's a great sport because you don't have to invest a whole lot of money and equipment."
Schowalter, who plays every day while living in Arizona and several days a week in Michigan, said pickleball has done wonders for his 42-year marriage.
"We're really blessed because we can play together," said Schowalter, who plays several doubles tournaments each year with his wife. "A lot of couples won't play with their spouses because it just doesn't work. It's really good character building and helps your marriage to do something like this.
"I learned to quit coaching her while we play and to stay out of her way. That translates into the way you relate in your daily life, too."
Plus, the injuries are rare, Schowalter said.
"You have to play within yourself," he said. "There are very few injuries in the sport. Once in a while, you'll see a pulled muscle, but it's pretty rare.
"There isn't a lot of long stretch running. The injuries mostly occur when a person goes for a shot they're physically not able to get."
John Judnich, recreation supervisor for the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, said staffers are introducing the sport to the community in hopes of forming a fall league.
"There are some communities in West Michigan that have pickleball, but we're hoping to bring it to Grand Rapids," Judnich said. "We're interested because it hits all age groups. I think there's a potential for it to be a growing activity."
Article provided by: Cris Greer / Grand Rapids Press
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