Who's up for pickleball?

Greg Bivona's favorite outdoor game is fun, social and easy to learn, he said. All of that may be true, but what most people ask about first is the game's name.

Bivona, a pickleball enthusiast, is seeking players interested in trying the game, which he called a combination of tennis and badminton, with a little Ping-Pong thrown in.

"It's a racquet sport that you play on a badminton-sized 20-foot by 44-foot playing surface," he said. "The net is a little lower than a tennis net and you play with a paddle-type racquet and a plastic ball."

The game originated in Washington state but has gained its greatest popularity in Florida, where it has replaced tennis in many adult communities. The Villages, a retirement community near Orlando, has 108 pickleball courts. Bivona said he picked up the game on vacation in Florida and became hooked because it was easier on his knees.

"It's a very good game for people over 65 like me because the court is one-third the size of a tennis court and the ball moves about one-third as fast as a tennis ball, so it's much easier to play and you're not chasing the ball all over the place" he said. "Also, the games tend to be pretty quick, so you can rotate teams on the court, and the players are pretty close together, so there can be conversations between points."

Conversations or furious smack-talk?

"Sometimes a little of both," Bivona said. "But it's very congenial. We have fun."

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Congressman Joel Pritchard. After returning from playing golf with friends, he attempted to set up a badminton game, but was unable to find the shuttlecock. The players improvised by lowering the net and using a whiffle ball. Estimates are that there are about 100,000 players in the United States and Canada. The unusual name comes from the rowing crew term "pickle boat," made up of rowers left over from other boats. There is also a widely retold (and almost certainly false) story that the Pritchard family dog, Pickles, would chase after the ball during play.

Scoring is similar to that of table tennis, with some exceptions. Players must "volley" the serve, returning it before it bounces. Once each side has volleyed, play continues as in tennis, with players permitted to play the ball on a bounce. Because of the low net, players are required to stand back from the net, Bivona said.

"Players are not allowed to approach the net unless the ball bounces in the 'kitchen,' a marked area near the net," he said. "If the ball bounces in the kitchen, you can return it, and then return to your position."

Balls played in the kitchen may not be volleyed, Bivona said.

"It's a low net and a slow-moving ball, so if you could just spike the ball, that wouldn't be fun," he said.

Bivona said he has already spoken to a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission and that he was hoping to petition the town to modify a few tennis courts for pickleball play.

"The town has 20 public tennis courts, and all we would need would be for one or two of them to have an additional blue line to make it a pickleball court," he said. "And the court would still be usable for tennis when not being used for pickleball."

Those interested in playing pickleball may email Bivona at gmbone@aol.com. To see video of a pickleball game, visit the United States Pickleball Association's website, usapa.org.

"If we can get a group together, I'll ask some town officials to add a line to a couple of tennis courts," Bivona said. "Hopefully in the summer we can have Pickleball Night up at Tashua Knolls."