Growing pickleball club hoping to expand territory in Schenectady

Pickleball teammates Eugene Haber (left) of Niskayuna and Tom Mayer of Schenectady play a match at the Schenectady Boys and Girls Club on May 9.

Pickleball teammates Eugene Haber (left) of Niskayuna and Tom Mayer of Schenectady play a match at the Schenectady Boys and Girls Club on May 9.

SCHENECTADY – Winter is long gone, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some people who would still like to see some white stuff on the ground around here.

Not snow, but paint.

Boys & Girls Club Pickleball has a tournament this week at the Schenectady B&GC’s Adeline Wright Graham clubhouse, a competition that includes women’s doubles and men’s doubles and is using the same time slots and court availability the pickleballers enjoy during a typical week of recreational play. The tournament started Monday.

School will be out soon, though, which means the kids the clubhouse was meant for will be occupying it, so the pickleballers will have to surrender their routine and seek open courts and time slots elsewhere, mostly at Collins Park in Scotia.

Schenectady B&GC Pickleball member Rich Unger said pickleball, a racket sport played on 44-by-20 courts that fit within a tennis court with the nets lowered a bit, is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., and has seen evidence of that within his own club. He estimated that they’ve doubled in membership in the last five years, to almost 120 people.

So the demand for playing space is there, and the club has been petitioning the city to paint lines in the dimensions and configuration they need to create courts in Schenectady.

“Our group is trying to get some outdoor pickleball courts in Schenectady,” Unger said. “We’re looking at a couple different places where they can stripe tennis courts, because we can use tennis courts. You just lower the net. We’ve got some tennis courts around here that don’t get used much that we could stripe for pickleball. You just put the paint down.”

The tournament has drawn about 20 club members and will be conducted on a rotating partner basis, so that every player will be paired with every other at some point, and each player will compile their own won-lost record.

It’s a means of ramping up the competitive level for a sport that is usually recreational and appeals to athletes of all stripes. The B&GC Pickleball club will also send some members to the Empire State Senior-Masters Games in Cortland in June.

“You don’t have to be a guy that’s been lifting weights for 10 years to be able to play it, you don’t have to be tall and fast,” Unger said. “You can pick the game up, then it’s learning the skills to get accurate, just like tennis.”

Pickleballers use short-handled solid paddles to whack a perforated ball similar to a wiffleball.

The serve is underhand to a designated service court, and the return of serve as well as the first shot back by the serving team must bounce on the ground within the lines before no-bounce volleying comes into play.

Points are awarded when shots fail to make it over the net, land out of bounds or bounce twice on the same shot within the lines.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the country … I just read there’s 4.8 million people who play it,” Unger said.

“We’re in it for fun. We make an effort to teach people, if they’re new to it. We teach them the rules. It’s pretty easy to learn, hard to master.”

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