A Funny Name, A Serious Sport

Local pickleball enthusiasts share their love of the game.
Tom and Sue Grun.

One of the satisfying aspects of any sport that involves striking a ball—golf ball, tennis ball, baseball—is the sound that results from solid contact. In the relatively new sport of pickleball, it’s the distinctive “pock” sound of a wooden paddle striking a plastic ball. It’s a sound that is being heard more often in White Bear Lake these days, as the game catches on locally, especially among aging baby boomers and others looking for fun, low-impact recreation.

Often described as a hybrid of tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball is less physically taxing than those other racket sports. Created in the state of Washington in 1965, the sport can be played on a tennis court, and uses a hard paddle and a polymer Wiffle ball.

The ball moves more slowly than a tennis ball, and the court is less than one-third the size of a tennis court, at 20 by 44 feet. (The tennis net must be lowered 2 inches for pickleball.) The ball is served with an underhand stroke so that contact with the ball is made below waist level.

White Bear resident Sam Skoda is a pickleball veteran. Introduced to the game on the East Coast, he’s been playing the game “off and on” since the early 1990s. “You can get a lot of exercise in only a couple of hours, and meet a lot of interesting people. It’s a fun thing to do in retirement.” He also likes the fact that players are constantly rotating (changing teams) and there is a vibe that is more congenial than competitive. “If somebody makes mistakes on the court it’s no big deal. Nobody walks away angry,” says Skoda, 66, who has played tennis and racquetball in the past.

Sixty-year-old Dale Grambush is a former tennis player who took up the game in 2016 and now plays three times a week. “The game is like racquetball, except the ball doesn’t travel as fast, so you don’t have to be quite as mobile,” he says. “It ends up being a low-impact workout. And playing pickleball there is time to chat with people.”

Grambush notes that one of pickleball’s unique features that makes the game interesting is the “kitchen area,” a non-volley zone extending 7 feet back from the net on each side. In that zone, players are not allowed to volley (hit the ball in the air); they have to let it bounce first.

White Bear resident Sue Grun first played pickleball with an aunt who lives in Maplewood. In 2015, she approached Jon Anderson, adult recreation specialist with White Bear Lake Area Schools. Anderson put together a couple of clinics to introduce the game locally, and set up a schedule for play at outdoor tennis courts at the WBLAHS-North Campus, Sunrise Middle School and Central Middle School. The local players use the city armory during the cold months. The White Bear Lake Lions club contributed $1,500 to the school district to buy nets, paddles and balls.
People who have played any of the racquet sports tend to pick up pickleball pretty quickly, Grun says. And players can decide how strenuous to make the game. “You can stand there and just hit, or move around the court more,” Grun says. She and her husband, Tom, have been playing two or three times a week.

The White Bear Lake group has been gaining new players almost weekly. “We’re a very friendly, welcoming group,” Grun says. “We don’t discriminate” on the basis of playing ability or experience.

Interested in playing pickleball? Contact Sue Grun at grunsusan@gmail.com.