COLUMN: Pickleball takes hold in Dallas -- and it's free

DALLAS -- As he sliced a shot over the net and across the court for an easy point, Dick Winn received a well-deserved compliment from Dallas resident Julie Clark, who was there watching her two sons: "Nice shot!" she said."Not bad for being 80," Winn said, cracking a smile.No, this wasn't a tennis game taking place - despite being played on tennis courts -- at Roger Jordan Community Park in Dallas.Instead, it was, well, some might say, its distant cousin: pickleball.What is pickleball, you ask?I think 12-year-old Robert Clark explained the game perfectly. "It's like table tennis, except you're standing on the table," the LaCreole Middle School student said.The sport, which combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis (pingpong), is also now readily available to play right here in Dallas.Thanks to Winn, who teamed up with Dave Brautigam, the city of Dallas' youth sports coordinator now in charge of creating adult recreation opportunities, you can learn pickleball free of charge, twice a week.At 80, Winn has plenty of experience in a sport that is typically geared toward the older generation.He lives in Dallas during the summer months, but in the winter he's off to Surprise, Ariz., where he and his wife, Marilyn, reside in a RV resort.It was there, in 2007, Winn found his calling -- despite not knowing the sport existed until that point."Someone said something about pickleball and I said, `What's that?'" Winn recalled.Soon after, he joined the park's club -- which has a whopping 500 members."We start playing at 7 a.m. and have to stop at 9 p.m.," Winn said.But seriously, what IS pickleball?Players are divided into teams of two (although you can play singles, if you're adventurous) on opposite sides of a net, which stands 2 inches lower than a tennis net. The court is the size of a badminton court and instead of racquets hard paddles are used.The ball is essentially a whiffle ball, so it doesn't have a ton of bounce, making the game more about eye-hand coordination and reflexes rather than speed or endurance. Photo by Nicole Watkins David Clark, 13, of Dallas, attempts to return a shot during pickleball play July 24. When I showed up to open play July 17 around 10 a.m., I was surprised to see that Robert and his brother, David, 13, both knew the game.They even knew how to keep score -- which was far more than me."The kids like it," Julie, their mother said. "You can set it up in a lot of places."One of those places is at their grandmother's house in Gervais, where the entire family has come together to have a pickleball tournament on the patio area, despite a few cracks.That's OK, though -- there are rules for that."If you miss the ball because it landed on a crack, you can say `Crack' and restart the serve," Robert explained to me.Young or old, the game is fun to play. I would know -- I jumped in with Robert for a game against his brother and his mom.We might have won -- and I caught myself jumping in the air to slam one down. Sorry for the uber competitiveness, I can't help it.But that doesn't mean that's bad for everyone."For older people especially, it's a very good game," Winn said. "The cardiovascular benefits, especially."Tired of the TV this summer?Head to the courts Monday or Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon and try out a new sport, free of charge.Winn said he'll be around until the end of September, and then it's back to pickleball heaven - err, Arizona."As long as there's interest, I'll be here," he said with a smile.--Nicole Watkins is the sports editor at the Itemizer-Observer. She can be reached at or 503-623-2373. CALLING ALL PICKLEBALL PLAYERS What: Free pickleball lessons and game play provided by the city of Dallas. When: Mondays (lessons) and Wednesdays (open play), 10 a.m. to noon. Where: Tennis courts at Roger Jordan Community Park, across from the Dallas Aquatic Center on Southeast LaCreole Drive. For more information: 503-803-8065.

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