“I think there are two people here we can beat,” said 69-year-old Guy Windholz to his doubles-team partner, Val Karl, on Saturday morning at the Hays Recreation Commission’s first pickleball tournament.
The first tourney drew 19 teams of two to the Rec’s gyms on Canterbury, including several dozen people in the bleachers.
“I’m here watching my wife,” said Mike Karl. “Val plays and she loves it, so I came to watch her.”
With one of their first games over on Saturday, Windholz and Karl came off the court tickled by victory.
“Lookie there, they won a game. Good job!” said Mike Karl with a fist bump to his wife. “I’m impressed.”
Windholz gave his racket a gentle victory toss, while Val Karl joined her husband and friends on the bleachers.
“It’s just fun,” she said, noting she’s played now for a couple months with others who show up at the gym during the week. “It’s really fun. I have a bad knee and I can’t run. It’s very recreational, we are not competitive.”
Cindy Munsch, who wasn’t in Saturday’s tournament, also started recently, saying she likes the camaraderie with the other players.
“It’s the fastest growing sport now in America for people over 60,” said Windholz, who took up the game about eight months ago at the urging of his sister-in-law.
“I came in and I fell in love with it,” he said.
Hays Rec started seeing Pickleball interest about three years ago, but it’s been in the last year interest has really exploded, said Gail Wickham, a Hays Rec program director.
Hays Rec purchased five nets and slowly added more and more game times. Now it’s offered as a drop-in activity from 8 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evenings, and on Tuesday evenings at the 13th Street gym.
“It’s really just taken off,” said Wickham. “We have four courts out here now, and we’ll have two more by mid-August.”
Anyone wishing to learn can take a two-week class being offered in June. Registration is outlined in the Spring and Summer schedule book that arrives in mailboxes Friday, Wickham said.
Some people come for the exercise, some people come to socialize, some like the competition, others do it just for fun.
Those registered for Saturday’s tourney ranged in age from 25 to 78, she said.
First prize Saturday was a $50 gift certificate to www.pickleballcentral.com, an online pickleball superstore, said Haley Nixon, Hays Rec program director.
Played on a court about a fourth the size of a tennis court, players use a paddle that’s a little larger than a ping-pong paddle, and a lightweight plastic wiffle ball. Play is similar to tennis, but with less running since the court is smaller. Game play goes to 15 points, and a two-point lead is the winner.
Rich Guffey, Hays, was watching his wife, Deb, play Saturday. She started two to three months ago, he said.
“It’s old people watching old people,” he said from the bleachers, where he and Mike Karl had spells of frequent laughter. “I haven’t taken it up yet. I haven’t had time,” said Guffey. “I think I’m about talked into it though. Everyone’s having fun.”
It’s not all old people, say Blake and Bryce McClung. The 25-year-old twins started playing the game after their dad, Justin McClung, Hays, took it up.
On Saturday, they won an early game 16-14.
“It was pretty close actually,” said Blake. “It was a close game for quite a bit.”
All through high school the two played tennis, now Bryce lives in Wichita where he is tennis coach at Goddard High School, and the pickleball pro at the Wichita Country Club. Blake lives and works in Lawrence.
“I give private and group pickleball lessons at the Wichita Country Club,” said Bryce. “It’s surpassed tennis now with popularity. It’s easier, it’s a lot cheaper, it’s a lot more casual, and it’s faster to pick up. It only takes about 10 minutes to learn the rules. And it’s a lot easier on the body.”
Blake’s interest took off after playing with the two-time national champion at the Wichita Country Club. One of the things she taught him, rush the net as quickly as you can when the game starts, and don’t be afraid to hit soft shots.
Bryce says he doesn’t see so much interest in pickleball from his high school students, but the middle school students are enthusiastic.
Justin McClung said residents Jeanie and Mike Michaelis played a big role in getting pickleball to take off locally.
“It’s amazing how many people have picked it up in the last year,” said Justin McClung. “This is a great sport for an older demographic, especially those of us who played tennis younger. I’d encourage anyone to come out. The more people we get the more events we can do like this.”
He’s been told that once the weather turns nice, the city of Hays will transform one of its city-owned tennis courts in Frontier Park to four permanent courts for pickleball.
Meanwhile, Kelli Karlin and Nona Barton, teammates on Saturday, were taking a break courtside awaiting their next tourney game.
“I started about a year ago, and I love it, it’s addicting,” said Karlin. “I’ve met a lot of nice people playing pickleball.”
Barton has played for about 18 months. Pointing to Karlin, her team partner, she explained, “I didn’t know her until I started playing pickleball.”