PICKLEBALL RULES! (...are whack)


I have a little muscle memory left for tennis.
I’ve enjoyed tennis since I was a kid. I didn’t play in high school because we didn’t have it. I might have played had we offered it. But my oldest daughter loved to play, and my wife is a humongous tennis fan.  They’re purists.
I’m just a sports guy.  I like to compete at just about anything. You’ve all heard my self-deprecation of my golf game, but I still compete – especially if you want to play for money.
I’ll play Euchre for money. I don’t care.
But lately I’ve been feeling pulled toward this game that relies on tennis muscle memory, but forces you to play ping pong without the table. Plastic balls, paddles, a net, something called a kitchen that you’re not allowed in unless prompted to do so, are part of a crazy game called Pickleball.  The name, according to lore, is from the phrase pickle boats which features rowers from the least competitive team in a crew race.
The correlation is that the people who invented the game wanted to use pieces of other sports, such as badminton and ping-pong to come up with a game.
So they’re the ones I have to blame my sore hips on.
My brother John has been wanting to get me on the pickleball courts for some time. So have some other prominent people in town who are probably hoping I blow a knee and get shelved for a while.
Well, not gonna happen. I’m of strong mind and body. Except for my knees. They whistled a couple times Friday at Fort Madison’s newest pickleball courts to let me know they were there.
My back held up, which is remarkable all things considered, but my arms and chest were talking to me a little today. There’s definitely some stretching that happens during the game, and should happen before getting on the court.
This game is wickedly addicting, but at the same time, relatively simple in concept.
You have to serve without a bounce, but the ball must bounce in on both sides of the court before you can take it in the air.
You also can’t get in the “kitchen” until your opponent coerces you in with a soft shot that bounces in the “kitchen” which is the part of the court near the net. You can’t even accidentally step in the kitchen, which harkens me back to my youth when my mom would come home from either school or her second job to make dinner for her family.
Yeah, I used extreme care stepping in the kitchen back then. My nephew Hayden and I won our first three of the best 2-outta-3 series.
“Then we switched up partners. My younger brother moves gingerly. His motto is 'I’m not here to be fast, just efficient'”. Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.
But he understands the game and can teach me as we play. Others have offered to teach me as well, but I typically make up some excuse for not being here. Really I’m just wanting to learn the finer points of the game before going out there and relying on cut shots and forehand winners down the lane.
It's not that I didn’t have my share of those Friday evening. I did, but my brother usually had an answer, and this isn’t a fast man. He’ll admit it.
This 48-year-old has good muscle memory for the 3.5 K run and his ability to get under your skin is nothing short of genius.
He likes to talk about me falling into the kitchen, or hitting the ball with lower clearance of the net, adding spin, Maybe he’s secretly worried about my ability for a backhand smash down the line.
Either way, the game is close to tennis except the ball is entirely different, the racquet is entirely different, the net is lower, the court is different, the scoring is different, and what hurts after you play is entirely different.
My daughter texted me as I’d abandoned her by playing pickleball over tennis. But sleep safe, sweetheart, I still like to watch tennis, but I’m all in on pickleball. The muscle memory came back quickly at Fort Madison’s Victory Park.
It was a full day with each court occupied on different occasions. I had my Bluetooth speaker connected and was playing some jams whilst I cut this doubles team apart with laser accuracy, some wicked forehand passing shots down the line, and some good hand fighting in the kitchen. (which in all honesty is how things worked anytime I cooked for the family.)
Hayden bailed on me after our third consecutive doubles victory and then I quickly realized it wasn’t me that was carrying the pickleball wins.
What I did realize was that I need more stretching and practice before I take on the upper echelon of pickleball players in Fort Madison. These guys have good precision, I bet, and also top-level equipment. But I’m just gonna use my wooden paddles and yellow whiffle balls to work some top-shelf spin. Then I’m gonna get out my MacBook so I can keep track of the score. Good God.
Two players on the same team serve back-to-back and you only score if you’re serving. If you score a point while in the kitchen and the ball didn’t bounce in the kitchen on our side, that’s no point. You don’t get any points for going in the kitchen if you’re not coerced there by a drop shot into the zone by your opponents. Then you have to get out of the kitchen.
I don’t know. I’ll get there. What I do know is that my hips hurt as do my feet, knees, ribs, neck, ankles, and big toe.
But I’ll recover.
Then I’ll head back to Victory Park with my Bluetooth speaker blasting 80s hairband in my Bjorn Borg white shorts and head band, bouncing then crouching, then bouncing and then crouching, ready to return the dinky serve with a smash through the kitchen to the baseline. Cuz that’s how I roll.
It'll be interested to see how I fare moving from amateur status to a novice volley-er.  Sooner, rather than later, the Fort Madison pickleball elite will have some competition. If my body can only hang on – But That’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at


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