Fun game with funny name taking island courts by storm

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Bob Soltys, chairman, left, and Alex Cruden, president EDWINA HOYLE

If you have ever played with a racquet of any type - squash, racquetball, tennis, or even ping pong - then you are the perfect candidate to learn and play pickleball.

"Pickleball is smaller than tennis and bigger than ping pong," said Alex Cruden, president of the Hilton Head Island Pickleball Club, of the game's dynamics. "It's a social game, easy to learn, and the rules enable women and men to play equally."

The paddle is similar to but larger than a ping pong paddle, and the ball is a plastic wiffleball the size of a baseball.

Pickleball is a growing sport for all ages, but especially for seniors. "It's great exercise that increases agility, creativity and patience," said Cruden. "It's also a great opportunity to increase socialization and improve health."

"It's easier than tennis, and all you need are sneakers and the paddle. It's a low-cost sport and for a $50 membership fee, you can play all year" with the local club, Cruden said.

The Pickleball Club currently has the use of five courts at the Island Recreation Center from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. That means that 240 members have the use of five courts for only 15 hours per week.

To help meet the demand for pickleball courts, Cruden said that the club is raising money to move the process forward with the town's efforts to improve recreational opportunities on the island - and for Cruden and company, pickleball needs to be at the top of the list.

Bob Soltys, chairman of the club, said they have been lobbying for three years for the town to build a state-of-the-art pickleball complex. "There is a latent demand for pickleball. We want to offer lessons, but right now we selfishly don't offer lessons because we can't accommodate new players. We want to be welcoming and we want to offer lessons, tournaments and events. Pickleball can have a positive economic impact as well," he said.

Cruden added that every dollar that is donated is an expression of interest and commitment. "We feel that putting up cash now is a vote for improvements in adult recreation. The faster we can raise money, the faster the town can build the pickleball complex."

The club hopes for a full-scale, permanent complex with 20 courts with all-weather nets. "Once the courts are built, they will be self-sustaining," Cruden added.

Club members will attend the Town Council meeting in December to let town officials know how much money they have raised for this project, and to reinforce the idea that every dollar represents a vote for pickleball - a healthy, social activity that will enhance the recreational programs for residents and visitors alike.

For information about the club or to learn how to make a donation, visit hhipbc.com.

Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.

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