Mike Drewery likened the sport of pickleball to “a big game of ping pong.”
He was easy to spot at the in-house, round-robin tournament at Woodbridge by Del Webb on Thursday morning. Drewery, 72, was the one wearing his wife’s wig and outfit while playing alongside Albert Low in mixed doubles.
“We ran out of women (for the tournament pairings),” he said.
But looks can be deceiving.
The Drewery-Low team reeled off seven straight games from the get go before narrowly losing to the Bob and Marcia O duo.
Like most folks at the active adult community, Drewery started playing Pickleball about a year ago. He lives across the street from the tennis courts and noticed the fun people were having on the 22-feet wide by 44-feet long courts with low-lying 36-inch nets.
“I’m 5-foot-6 so those nets were close to my size,” he jokingly said.
Robert Phils helped introduced Pickle-ball to Del Webb. He picked up the sport while at Palm Springs about five years ago.
Phils, 78, confessed that he never really played tennis. He took a glance at the 20 or so involved in the Pickleball at Del Webb tournament, noticing that most either played tennis or were former players just by their stokes.
“All you need is good balance and some athletic ability to play,” he said.
Rather than a racket, Pickleball uses a specially-made hard paddle. The ball is a durable plastic no different than the polymer wiffle ball used to practice baseball.
The Pickleball server initiates the action by striking the ball underhanded and diagonally cross court in the non-volley zone. The returner must play the first shot off the bounce and over the net. The serving team also plays the return off the bounce before proceeding with the volley.
In Pickleball term, volley means to hit the ball in the air without letting it bounce, thus, allowing for players to use drop shots, dinks, or smashes during the rally. Games are usually played to 11 and a team must win by two points.
At the Del Webb event, games were shortened to nine.
Phils, who is among those trying to bring Pickleball to the City of Manteca, knows of the popularity of the sport outside of the area.
“At the Del Webb in Arizona, there are 100 Pickle-ball courts,” he said. “The ladies really like playing it – it’s something they can do.”
Phils also knows a bit of Pickleball history.
“It was created in 1965 by a politician (Congressman Joel Pritchard from Bainbridge Island, WA) who could no longer play tennis,” he said.
Pritchard along with William Bell and Barney McCallum, according to www.pickleball.com, were credited as co-inventors of the game initially conceived with the entire family in mind.
As for the name, Pickles was a family dog that would chase errant wiffle balls and then hide in the bushes. Retrieving the ball meant taking Pickles’ ball later shortened to the namesake of the sport.
By the mid-1970s, pickleball evolved from a family activity to “a paddle court sport with formalized rules,” the website said.
Phils was responsible for bringing pickleball to Twain Harte. At the time, he lived in the Tuolumne County community and was successful in getting pickleball courts there.
He moved to Del Webb nearly two years ago. Interested in the sport quickly generated and with it came the pickleball courts.
Actually, Del-Webb has one dedicated pickleball court. The other two share one tennis court, using portable nets and taped-in lines. Phils was among a small group that lobbied with management to bring in the pickleball court back when the tennis courts were being redone.
He estimates that over 30 people at Del Webb actively play pickleball.
“It has the highest fun factor,” said Drewery, who is also a regular softball and tennis player at Del Webb. “It’s a social game because you’re so close (in proximity) to everyone when playing.”
Meanwhile, Phils is hoping that the City of Manteca considers converting the tennis courts at Center Street and Poplar Avenue into pickleball courts.
Funding is sparse for the city especially for the amount of work necessary for the conversion. The Parks and Recreation Commission recently discussed monitoring public interest along with input for a facility before moving forward.
For Drewery, pickleball is not only fun but a good cardio workout.
“We’re saving money that otherwise would go to a cardiologist,” he said.