■ BY SUE ERWIN
Pickleball. It’s played on tennis courts, but the equipment is different and so are the rules.
Island resident Michele Harrison finds the game very intriguing. She recently retired with her husband, Tom, to Boca Grande from Naples.
Although they were living in an area known to host the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, she had never played the game before coming to Boca Grande.
“I started playing out here last year when we were renting a place and was immediately hooked,” Michele said. “The area of play is about 1/4 the size of a tennis court, the net is lower and it’s definitely less stressful on your shoulders and knees.”
Michele and Tom spend the summer months in North Carolina, where she plays in mixed doubles teams. Currently in Boca Grande, she competes against a small group of ladies, but she’s hoping to find some more players who might be interested in partaking in the games this season.
The paddles are made of graphite and wood, and the ball resembles a whiffle ball, and it’s about the same size as a tennis ball. The paddles can range from 6 to 14 ounces in weight, but what’s most important is that it has the correct grip and circumference of the player’s hand.
The ladies currently play on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at various courts on the island. They commonly play at the public courts on Wheeler Street, or at private courts where one of the players is staying. Many associations around the island have courts with pickleball line markers.
Michele also plays at the Englewood Sports Complex on River Road and the Englewood YMCA.
“I’m hoping if more people are interested in learning about the sport, we could get an instructor to come to the island to teach a class,” she said.
She’s convinced that if most people give it a try, they’ll be surprised how quickly the sport can be picked up.
“It’s not a game where the goal is to kill the ball,” she said. “It’s easier on the shoulders, and you’re playing on a tighter course, so it’s fast paced, yet strategic.”
The sport is becoming wildly popular in the area.
In fact, the 2019 World Pickleball Championship is taking place next weekend, Dec. 27 to Dec. 30 in Punta Gorda. If you’re interested in meeting professional pickleball players from around the world and you’d like to be a spectator at the games, tickets start at $10 parking is $5. The PicklePlex of Punta Gorda at Florida SouthWestern State College is located at 26300 Airport Rd. in Punta Gorda. This is the first ever $100,000 World Pickleball Championship in which players are invited to compete to determine the best player in the world in each age and professional categories. More than 1,500 players are expected to compete and 60 world champions will be crowned.
For more information or to find out when games are played on the island, contact Michele Harrison at (239) 580-9889.