Dawn Hardy is a self-described fierce competitor.
Watching her play confirms that unless you're watching the non-stop smile on her face when she's playing.
A former college athlete who has played volleyball, softball, and numerous other sports, it only took her a couple pickleball games back home in Topeka, Kansas to fire up those competitive engines.
“I love it,” said Hardy during the weekly pickleball mixer at Casa Del Valle in Alamo. “I especially love the friendships.”
The Casa Del Valle Pickleball Mixer is held every Thursday from 9 a.m. until noon. The weekly event is open to anyone wanting to come and play on the six courts available. There's a $3 charge and a one-time waiver to be signed. There are some paddles and balls available for use.
“These are probably the best outdoor courts in the Valley,” said Dennis Leitner who, along with his wife Sheri, help organize and run the program, which had more than a dozen participants during a weekly event. “When I retired, I wanted something to stay active beside golf. I met a friend in my hometown who had put together our pickleball group and really enjoyed it. I played tennis before and this game is very adaptable, especially for seniors.”
Pickleball has exploded in popularity, not just in the Rio Grande Valley or among Winter Texans, but across the country and throughout Canada.
According to pickleballusa.org, “pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington. Three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum — whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities — are credited for creating the game. Pickleball has evolved from original handmade equipment and simple rules into a popular sport throughout the US and Canada. The game is growing internationally as well, with many European and Asian countries adding courts.”
Leitner said pre-COVID, the event would attract as many as 40 players. With the six courts all playing doubles, 24 players is the max. But with constant rotations, everyone plays, and everyone gets a break. They also are planning to hold a round-robin tournament like they did the year prior to the pandemic.
“It's just a great way for people who don't have access or want to play in a different environment to come out and play and meet people,” he said. “They can also check out the park.”
Hardy, who said that she has to tame her competitive nature, added that it helps that she has played tennis, ping pong and badminton. Pickleball has elements of all three sports, played on a badminton-size court and with a modified tennis net.
“If you played any of those, it's easy to pick up,” Hardy said. “I've taken lessons, watched Youtube videos and just love to play.
“The key is to get to the line. A lot of people like to stay back and play or play one up and one back. You have to get to the net. I've played singles and doubles in tennis but doubles in pickleball is more fun.
“And you meet so many wonderful people.”