When Abdelrady “Rady” Hussein returns to Egypt this week after spending a year in the United States teaching Arabic, he is taking home America’s love of celebrations, freedom and … pickleball.
Hussein, 35, worked for the Schenectady City School District for the past year teaching Arabic to Paige Elementary School students in kindergarten through grade six. This was all part of a grant the district received from the Teachers of Critical Languages Program, which the State Department has designated will be vitally important for students to learn in the coming years.
Hussein had been teaching English to high school students in Cairo, Egypt and was looking for a different experience. He was one of 10 people selected to participate in the program this year out of 2,200 who applied.
During Hussein’s time in Schenectady, the students were teaching him about American football and baseball. He was teaching them how to play soccer — which the rest of the world knows as “football.”
An avid athlete, Hussein was looking for something to occupy his free time as his wife and two children stayed behind in Egypt. He found out through friend John Feret about pickleball, which is played like table tennis except on a 20-by 44-foot court with larger paddles and a roughly 21⁄2-inch diameter whiffle-type ball.
The action is much quicker than traditional tennis, Feret said. “You’re slamming it to each other at 6 feet apart,” he said.
Games are played to 11 points. As in volleyball, only the person who is serving captures the point. There are also a few little other wrinkles in the rules. For example, serves must be underhanded and the ball must bounce once before it can be returned after the initial serve. People also cannot volley from inside a 7-foot zone right near the net.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 in Washington state by William Bell, Barney McCallum and U.S. Rep Joel Pritchard, who were looking for a game that the whole family could play on a shorter court. It takes its name from Pritchard’s dog Pickle, according to the website www.pickleball.com. In recent years, the game has started to spread beyond the Pacific Northwest.
Despite scattered rain showers, Hussein and Feret and Feret’s 8-year-old son Eli decided to play some practice matches at Collins Park in Scotia on Sunday. If the weather were nicer, there would have been about 20 people there. “I would say half the players are over 70 and they’re all good,” Feret said.
The group plays at the park on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. For more information, visit cdpickleball.com.
Hussein got the better of Feret with volleys that landed just inside the line and others that just dropped over the net.
“He’s showing off now,” Feret said after a slam. “He kills me in this game.”
It is a pretty good workout, according to Feret.
“On a tennis court, I could play for an hour and not break a sweat.”
Hussein had never played tennis before but soon became hooked on pickleball and played it three times a week.
“It teaches you to be patient — to wait for other people to make mistakes.”
Patience also helped him in dealing with his students. Children are similar all over the world but the customs are different, Hussein said.
“The kids in Egypt are more serious,” he said. “Here, the kids have nearly everything because they are a little spoiled.”
However, students picked up the language very quickly, Hussein said, despite only having about an hour per week with each class.
“I think most of fourth, fifth and sixth graders at Paige can read Arabic now and that is a great thing,” he said.
He also noticed that there are more celebrations in the United States. For example, people enjoy going to Irish festivals, whether they are Irish or not. “Everybody likes to celebrate and have fun and be happy. That’s the best part of American culture,” he said.
Hussein said it was particularly memorable to be living in the United States during a time of tremendous upheaval in Egypt with President Hosni Mubarak stepping down from power February in response to nationwide protests in the streets of Cairo. Friends and family kept him informed about the political developments in his country.
Hussein looks forward to returning to a hopefully more democratic country. Even though people had the right to vote before, sometimes their vote didn’t matter because of fraud. “Maybe for the first time in 30 years, people will think their vote counts,” he said.
Hussein plans to take the game back with him to Egypt. However, he will give it a new moniker because he does not think that the name “pickleball” will translate well.
“I will call it mini tennis,” he said.