By Eric Barton
Harriet Berks Kalin and her husband, Josh Kalin, were visiting the Central Florida retirement community of The Villages three years ago when someone suggested they try a sport with a wacky name.
All it took was one pickleball lesson, and the couple spent the whole trip on the courts. They liked it so much they rented a house in The Villages for a month to keep playing.
The game is something of a cross between tennis and Ping-Pong. It’s played on a hard surface about half the size of a basketball court, with a net in the middle, a hard plastic ball and Ping-Pong-like rackets. It’s best with doubles, becoming more about quick reactions than lots of running. After their trip to The Villages, the Kalins were hooked.
“We came back home and asked around: ‘Anybody play pickleball around here?’” says Harriet, from Delray Beach. “Nobody did.”
So they started a local pickleball community. The couple lobbied housing developments and retirement communities to add courts. They taught friends. They got others addicted to the game.
Now there are hundreds of pickleball courts in South Florida, played mostly in some 30 retirement communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Communities such as Century Village in Pembroke Pines and Heron Bay in Parkland have hundreds of players.
Things have gotten so big the pickleball players started a league in January, allowing retirement communities to compete against each other. There isn’t a championship or a trophy at the end, just the goal of creating competitive matches.
But that’s generally the point of pickleball, says Carl Steinberg, 72, of Boynton Beach, who retired from commercial real estate. New or less-experienced players are matched up with veterans, creating evenly matched teams that get players intermingling.
“It can be extremely social,” Steinberg says, “and it can also become as competitive as you want it to be.”
Steinberg teaches a pickleball course for beginners. He charges $5, a nominal fee in the hopes of getting more people interested in the game. There’s nothing he likes more than seeing a student become an expert, like one 94-year-old former pupil.
“He may be 94, but if you give him a chance, he’ll take your head off,” Steinberg jokes.
That’s one thing Harriet Berks Kalin says she likes about the game, the fact that anyone can play. Because there’s not as much movement required as other sports, most people can compete, even if they have injuries or tire quickly. A retired administrator, Harriet played tennis competitively for 30 years back in Delaware. Now she prefers the speed of pickleball.
“Yes, we might have an issue with one body part or another, but we can all play pickleball.”
How to Begin
Google pickleball and you’ll find videos on how the game is played, explanations about its origin in suburban Seattle in 1965, and why the game was named for Pickles the dog.
Harriet Berks Kalin and Josh Kalin have become the sport’s local ambassadors and happily answer pickleball questions.
Carl Steinberg teaches a weekly beginner pickleball class. Contact Steinberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Delray Beach’s pickleball community has its own website, dbpickle.com, or search for Delray Beach Pickleball Forum on Facebook.