Demonstrating the pickleball serve, recent Fredericksburg resident Marcy Guion (left) introduces a new group of pickleballers to the game at a recent workshop. Photo by Phil Houseal

Jan 20, 2021–It’s a serious sport with a silly name. And it’s finally arrived in Fredericksburg.

“I couldn’t believe a town like Fredericksburg didn’t have anyone playing pickleball,” said Marcy Guion, a retired teacher and coach who moved here with her husband, Richard, from Corpus Christi two years ago. “It’s the perfect town for it.”

Described as a mixture of tennis, ping pong, badminton, and racquet ball, pickleball was invented in the mid-1960s as a children’s backyard game, and is now one of the fastest growing sports in the United States.

I picked up a paddle at a recent workshop conducted by Steven Michaud, a Certified Pickleball Teaching Professional. I’ve been curious about this HO-scale sport as a way to stay in shape without having to chase balls around the tennis court. Four pickleball courts fit inside one regulation-size tennis court.

But don’t get the idea pickleball is not a workout. I watched some matches by experienced players and there was lots of grunting and sweating, even in 40-degree weather. The mental strategy requires total engagement as well, with the option of letting the wiffle-type ball bounce or sending it back across the net without touching the ground. And you can smack it as hard as you can and it won’t sail across the backstop like a tennis ball would.

In my brief hitting, I quickly realized my tennis skills transferred to hitting a pickle ball, with the same stances, racquet control and court sense. But there were also elements of ping pong, where you could impart spin to the ball with flicks of the wrist.

The best part of pickleball is everyone can choose their level of participation.

Visiting pickleball instructor Steven Michaud explains the rules to a strong turnout of Fredericksburg residents eager to join the country’s fastest-growing sport. Photos by Phil Houseal

“You can have as much fun as you want, or be as competitive and you want,” Guion said. “You’ll find someone at your level. Even the more advanced players are good about adjusting their games to play with anyone.”

The workout level depends on the skill level and how much people want to put into it, according to Guion.

“You can stand there, or run to the ball and go for every shot. Regardless of level, you can have fun. It’s easy to learn and a real family sport.”

You can find the rules to pickle ball online, or just show up. Thanks to Joe Saunter of the Fredericksburg Tennis Association working with city officials, Lady Bird Park has designated one of the tennis courts for pickle ball use, complete with nets and markings. A group meets three mornings and three evenings every week. The four courts can accommodate up to 16 players. There might even be a “special beverage” after the evening workout.

“We’re always looking for new people. If they come out, we will help them, teach them, and get them together with someone they feel comfortable with.”

Playing is free, though the group appreciates a small donation to help buy balls. Pickleball racquets can cost the same as an average tennis racquet, but there are usually some spares for beginners to try out before they buy their own.

I asked my practice partner, Chris, why she showed up for this on a cold Saturday morning.

“I’m retired, and wanted a way to stay in shape and meet new people,” she said as we volleyed. “This seemed like the perfect solution.”

That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment with the dozen other participants, and one that Guion hears often.

“People are enjoying coming out, playing, laughing, and exercising,” Guion said. “I love these people we’ve met in Fredericksburg. It’s been a joy moving here with my husband. Come on out, you won’t regret it!”

The Fredericksburg pickleballers meet at the Lady Bird Park Tennis Courts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings at 9:00 a.m., and Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday evenings at 6:00 p.m. Friday night is more of a family night, although players of any age are welcomed anytime. Anyone wanting information is welcome to call Marcy Guion at (361) 442-6860.