LINCOLNTON – On any given day at Betty Ross Park in Lincolnton, either outside or in the gym, Lincoln County residents gather to play pickleball. A relatively new sport, pickleball is a cross between tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It’s played on a badminton-sized court using a modified tennis net with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes.
Approximately five years ago, Danny McGinnis, a lifelong Lincolnton resident, was playing badminton at Betty Ross Park with friends. When they were through, one of the players suggested to McGinnis that they play a game of pickleball.
“Pretty soon, we never played badminton, we were playing pickleball,” he said. “It’s a much faster game and more fun. Pickleball can be played by young kids up to old people. I’m 79. I call it ping pong on top of the table because the game is closer to ping pong than anything else in the rules.”
In the beginning, there were only about five people playing pickleball at Betty Ross Park. Now there’s a county wide group that has almost 150 members. The City of Lincolnton recently added two new pickleball courts. There are also portable pickleball nets that can be placed in the outside tennis courts so there are four courts for pickleball. There are four courts available inside.
McGinnis recently had the distinction of being the first man inducted into the “Lincoln Picklers Hall of Fame.” Florence Beam was the first woman inducted.
“It shocked me to death,” he said.
Often when McGinnis tries to recruit people to play pickleball, they’ll often chuckle and ask, “pickleball?”
“They think it’s a joke and at first I thought it was too,” he said. “I started calling it old man tennis, so it doesn’t sound so weird.”
Pickleball has an interesting history, according to the USA Pickleball web site. After playing golf one Saturday during the summer, Joel Pritchard, congressman from Washington State and Bill Bell, successful businessman, returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, Washington (near Seattle) to find their families sitting around with nothing to do. The property had an old badminton court so Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and couldn’t find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. At first, they placed the net at badminton height of 60 inches and volleyed the ball over the net. As the weekend progressed, the players found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and soon the net was lowered to 36 inches. The following weekend, Barney McCallum was introduced to the game at Pritchard’s home. Soon, the three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton. They kept in mind the original purpose, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together.
There’re two accounts of how it was named “pickleball.” The first account is according to Joan Pritchard. She started calling the game pickleball because the combination of different sports reminded her of the pickle boat crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of the other boats.
The second account came from Barney McCallum who says pickleball was named after Pritchard’s dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run with it. Some believe Pickles was named after the game because he didn’t join the family until a couple of years after the game was created.
Lincoln County’s 2021 Man of the Year, Dean Lutz is an active member of Lincoln Picklers. He was an avid tennis player, but now prefers pickleball because “you don’t have to run as far and it’s a lot easier on your knees.”
Also a former tennis player, Margaret Schrum was named female player of the year, Ronnie White was the male player of the year.
“I played tennis my whole life and started seeing pickleball and thought to myself, that’s a smaller court,” Schrum said. “During COVID, they let us play outside and my tennis club wouldn’t let us play. I play this more than tennis now. Most people don’t think it’s exercise, but it is. It’s a good mental game too. You have to adjust quickly because the ball comes back to you much quicker than with tennis. It’s not just an old people’s game, we have plenty of younger people who play here too. We just have fun.”
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