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Pickleball picks up in the Glendale community

Popularity for sport, which features elements of tennis and Ping-Pong, has increased.

March 17, 2014|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Eighty-seven year old Maxine Johnson of Eagle Rock, right, plays pickleball with her doubles partner Janelle Morton, 59, of Pasadena, at the Glendale YMCA on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Eighty-seven year old Maxine Johnson of Eagle Rock, right,… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Ken Robin remembers walking his dog in Los Feliz about four years ago when a stranger came up to him and asked if he plays tennis and Ping-Pong.

When he said he did, the man, Marshall Pura, replied: "Then I've got the game for you."

Robin, who was living in the Bay Area at the time, was just in Los Feliz for vacation, but Pura still picked him up the next day and drove him to the Glendale YMCA to play a game of pickleball.

"I didn't know what pickleball was. I didn't even know what Glendale was," Robin, a retired attorney who has since moved to Los Angeles, said this week after finishing up a game of the sport that's been around since the 1960s, but has been increasing in popularity over the past decade.

Between March 2010 and last month, the number of pickleball sites across North America has nearly tripled to 2,236, according to the USA Pickleball Assn. Last year was the first time the National Senior Games Assn., which acts like the Olympics for seniors, included the game, which was invented by a Washington state congressman and his friends to entertain their bored kids during the summer.

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"The way that we consider what sports are held at the national level are based on demand by various state members and the board of directors," Senior Games spokesman Del Moon said. "You have to rise to a very high standard to have the National Senior Games change the roster of offered sports."

Before Pura, who is now an ambassador with the Pickleball Assn., met Robin walking the streets of Los Feliz, the retired marriage and family therapist had read an article about pickleball and its popularity among seniors due to its low-impact nature in AARP Magazine. Soon after, he vacationed in Ruidoso, Mexico and saw a group of people playing the game that looked like Ping-Pong mashed with tennis and played on with a Wiffle Ball on a court similar to the size of one used for badminton.

Pura was hooked after playing one game in Mexico. When he returned from vacation, he searched for a local court. He reached out to parks and recreation officials in Los Angeles, but to no avail. On a whim, he decided to call the YMCA in Glendale. Turns out there was an abandoned paddle tennis court on the roof, but it hadn't been used in years and was in a state of disarray. Paddle tennis is played on a smaller court than tennis, like pickleball. A YMCA official asked Pura if he wanted to use the broken-down court.

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