Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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20190227 GAO Pickleball Moering 0145Pickleball is not just a growing phenomenon in the Rio Grande Valley, but is actually national in scope. The sport is similar to tennis, but the court is only half the size and a whiffle ball reduces the speed a bit in the back and forth volleying.

That’s the picture provided by Warren Lock, an avid player, who spent most of his life coaching tennis, along with some playing tossed in. The Winter Texan from Iowa City, Iowa called pickleball a perfect game for retirees because of its combination of learning a new skill, getting good exercise and the social aspect of meeting new people. The attraction he said over tennis is less movement required. And the cost is minimal to play, he added.

He said the popularity and growth of the racquet sport is not only occurring here but is exploding in Florida and California. Pickleball didn’t catch on in the Valley until about three years ago. Much of it was played at community centers and some parks. But more facilities are being added, like at Casa Del Valle RV Resort in Alamo, where two outdoor tennis courts were replaced with eight pickleball courts and Bentsen Grove Resort added two new indoor courts, bringing the total to three.

The 62-year-old Lock, who stays at Winter Ranch RV Resort in Alamo with his wife for three and a half months starting each January, was participating in the Golden Age Olympics (GAO) Pickleball Competition that ran from Feb. 20 to the 22nd at the Palmview Community Center in McAllen. He can only stay that long because back in Iowa he’s a part-time tennis teacher at the University of Iowa.

20190227 GAO Pickleball Moering 0141Originally from Australia, Lock landed in the U.S. on a four-year tennis scholarship at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee when he was just 20. He played more tennis after college and ran several tennis clubs during much of the next 42 years in the U.S.

All of the GAO competition consists of doubles play for men, women and mixed. More than 80 teams signed up to play, which involved 145 players, according to Lillian Palmer, who is one of several pickleball ambassadors in the Valley promoting the sport. The coordinator of the GAO event for the past three years, noted that was a significant increase from the 115 who participated last year. In addition to the types of doubles play, there are also two skill levels for players to choose from, 3.0 and below and 3.5 and above. It’s necessary to win two out of three games, with a score of 11 points each to take a match.

Lock plays in the higher skill level and in men’s doubles; he and his partner, Norio Nishiguchi, took first place for the second year in a row. He and Palmer, who is 83, are partners for mixed doubles which they took the top place this year. She was the oldest player until this year when a woman, who was 85, signed up for the tournament. The ambassador also travels to play pickleball, having been to a national tournament recently in Indian Wells, California. People come from many parts of the nation for the competition.

While the majority of players in the Valley are Winter Texans, Palmer, who gave lessons in the past, is encouraging all ages from 12 years on up to join the sport. She said, “You only need a small plot of ground and a net to play.”

It’s a game that is one of the fastest if not the fastest growing sport nationally, Palmer said. In the Valley it’s played nine months out of the year in various venues, the ambassador added. The only time it’s not played is in the summer because Winter Texans are gone. She expects the sport to continue growing each year, especially as more retirees discover its benefits.

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