Browsing the internet may turn up a couple of different stories about how the 52-year-old sport received the name “pickleball.”

Columbus Pickleball Club president Brad Gonsalves and secretary Nancy Conner are most familiar with the story of congressman Joel Pritchard having a dog named Pickle who loved to chase the ball during the game. Many believe this was Pritchard’s inspiration in naming the sport.

“There is no pickle involved,” Gonsalves said. “Unless you get shut out in the game, they say you’ve been pickled. You don’t want to get pickled.”

The game originated in Bainbridge Island, Washington, just outside of Seattle, and has made its way to Columbus. The Columbus Pickleball Club started in July 2016 by Mary and Norris Moore, who learned the game in Florida. It took years for them to get it off the ground, but it has now grown to 157 members on the mailing list and continues to gain five-to-six new players per week.

The club plays seven days a week as early as 7 a.m. on Saturdays. All of the winter games are played at Foundation for Youth’s inside gym and Mill Race Park, which has indoor and outdoor courts. The club is able to run four doubles games at once in the Foundation for Youth gym, but Pickleball has picked up so much steam that the club is running out of outdoor space during the summer.

“One of our biggest missions is to work to get outdoor courts,” Conner said. “Our goal is to be able to raise money to build at least four more courts. Our vision is to have six outdoor courts at Donner.”

As of right now, Donner Park has two courts available for a club whose regular daily showing requires at least three or four. The club has about 70 regular participants, and the average age of all participants, according the to 66-year-old Gonsalves, falls in the 60s range, with the oldest being 82.

Columbus resident Joe Shafran, 67, played tennis for much of his life, like many of the other retired participants. He also played racquetball and squash, so when he started playing pickleball a year-and-a-half ago, he picked up on it pretty quickly.

Conner, who only has been playing for less than two years herself, said many of the people signing up for for the club have never heard of or played the sport. The 71-year-old didn’t know anything about pickleball until she read an article about it. Given her background in tennis, ping pong and badminton, she decided to give it a shot.

There also are other players like John Capps, who has been playing pickleball for 10 years. Capps was introduced to the game when he moved to Florida after retiring from Cummins 11 years ago. The 55-and-over community he lived in housed 12 pickleball courts, which allowed Capps to get plenty of practice.

“You can find pickleball anywhere there is a senior community,” Shafran said. “It does tend to attract seniors first because they can play. Then, when you get your kids to play, they think it’s fun.”

Shafran isn’t much of a gym person, but he and Conner have both confessed to how playing pickleball has extended their reflexes and mobility. Conner also claims to get a nice core workout because of the kitchen line.

The kitchen line is what pickleball players call the line in front of the net that players aren’t allowed to cross when volleying. It forces players to reach over with their upper body while keeping their feet back.

“The balance and speed, it’s just amazing,” Conner said. “I think most of us would say we’re probably in better shape now then we’ve ever been.”

Pickleball has been a major hit with the senior community, but it’s beginning to catch on with the younger crowd as well. Columbus firefighters have picked up the sport, playing it in the firehouse and joining the club on Sunday nights.

Schools are even starting to include the game during physical education class. CSA New Tech High School hosted a pickleball tournament last year to raise money to put up nets for gym class. Conner has introduced the game to several elementary school gym teachers, who are also implementing the game into their classes.

The Columbus Pickleball Club will get even bigger this summer, when its members who are currently in Florida for the winter will be traveling back as the weather heats up. That is going to be a tough challenge for the club to manage since it will be limited to only two courts at Donner Park.

“When we go to two courts, we’re going to have to split up the recreational and competitive because we just don’t have room for everyone,” Conner said. “We’d love everyone to be able to play at the same time.”

Splitting the club up is only a temporary fix until the club reaches it goal of getting more courts.

Come join the club

President: Brad Gonsalves

Secretary: Nancy Conner

Treasure: Fran Land

Yearly dues: $5

Foundation for Youth playing schedule: 9 a.m. Mon-Thurs. with beginners classes at 11 a.m. on Tue. and Thurs; Friday men’s competitive at 8 a.m.; Saturday at 7 a.m.; Sunday at 5 p.m.;

Mill Race playing schedule: 6 p.m. on Wednesday; Friday at noon with beginners from 1:15-3 p.m.; Saturday beginners 8 a.m.-9:15 a.m. with recreational play starting at 9:15 a.m.
Contact info: Gonsalves email b4gonsalv@sbcglobal.net; Conner email connern46@gmail.com
Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.