• Joseph F. Berenato

Pickleball gaining popularity in town


Pickleball is becoming a popular way to exercise. Groups of 20 regularly attend pickleball clinics held at the Hammonton Middle School. (Courtesy Photo)

HAMMONTON—A new sport craze has been sweeping the region and has been gaining popularity in Hammonton; pickleball.


Lori Flickinger, owner of Lori’s Wellness Loft, said that pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, played on a badminton-sized court.


“It’s played with a pickleball paddle, which is half the size of a tennis racquet. It’s smaller than a tennis racquet, bigger than a ping-pong paddle, and the ball is a whiffle ball,” Flickinger said.


Charlie Kirchner, owner and co-operator of Hammonton Skating and Fun Center, said that the paddle is also unlike a tennis racquet in that it does not have strings.


“You can use a wooden one or a composite paddle. It’s shaped like a racquetball racquet, but it’s solid,” Kirchner said.


According to Flickinger, pickleball was created by three fathers in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Wash.


“It was their summer home, and it was a rainy day and the kids were bored. They were trying to put together a sport just to get the kids outside and active, and that’s when they started this game ... The sport got its name from the owner’s dog, Pickles, who used to chase after the ball,” Flickinger said.


Flickinger said that, until relatively recently, she had never heard of pickleball.


“During the pandemic, a friend of mine invited me out to play. I said, ‘I don’t even have a paddle.’ She said, ‘That’s fine; you can use mine.’ As soon as I picked it up, I just fell in love—and continued playing every single day during the pandemic because it was a three-month shutdown. It was really my only outlet during that time. Honestly, it was a saving grace for me, because it was a grim time for everyone and it was the only thing where I was able to get out and move my body, and to feel better when we weren’t able to do anything indoors,” Flickinger said.


Kirchner, who lives in Deptford Twp., said that he first learned of the sport some time ago.


“I live in Deptford Twp., and the mayor—a little over two years ago—said that he’d been getting interest. I’m the recreation director here in the township. I had some people come over and teach us; we had seven to start, and we have over 150 in a program now here,” Kirchner said.


Kirchner said that, prior to that, he had never heard of pickleball.


“I didn’t know anything about it. We had these people come in, and I’m hooked. I play at least three days a week, if not more. It was great exercise for me; in the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve lost 20 pounds, and I’m getting in better shape every day. It’s all due to me moving on the pickleball court,” Kirchner said.


Flickinger agreed, noting that pickleball can be “very addictive.”


“The interesting is, I’ve been in the health and wellness field for 27 years now, and I have never come across any kind of sport or activity that had the staying power that this has, where people don’t quit once they get involved. Once they get involved, they are shoveling the snow on the courts to get in and play. They play no matter what,” Flickinger said.


Now, both Flickinger and Kirchner offer pickleball lessons.


Flickinger holds pickleball clinics at Hammonton Middle School’s tennis courts.


“We max out at 20 people; that’s all we can fit. Every single month, we have 20 people waiting to come out and play with us. Now, we’re opening it up to kids; we want to do teen clinics, we want to do family clinics, we want to do all kinds of clinics to help introduce people to the sport and grow the sport in the area ... They are $20 a week. It’s a two-hour clinic. We have four coaches per clinic, and it’s broken up in a station-style practice where it’s a learn-and-play. The first hour is all drills, and then the second hour they break out into games and they play. We call it ‘learn and play,’ so that they actually learn how to get out there and play,” Flickinger said.


One of the appeals of pickleball, Flickinger said, is its affordability.


“It’s a very inexpensive sport to get started on. All you need is a paddle and a ball. It’s very inexpensive to play, because of these rec places that are outside; there’s no charge. To go indoors to play, it may be $10 for a two-hour session, so it’s very, very reasonable,” Flickinger said.


Kirchner concurred regarding the low cost of the sport, noting that, for his lessons, all that interested parties need to bring is “sneakers, comfortable clothes and an arm to swing; we have everything else.”


“Ours are $5 for the hour; it’s on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. I do a class from 1 p.m. until about 1:15 or 1:20 p.m., then they play games among themselves ... I marked out four courts—we can fit four courts comfortably on the skating floor; we have a great wooden floor there—and we started about three or four weeks ago. I had one person show up the first day. We’re now up to, the most we’ve had was eight so far. We do it on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1 p.m.,” Kirchner said.


Kirchner said that, currently, the lessons being offered at Hammonton Skating and Fun Center are for those aged 55 and older.


“It is absolutely a great program for all ages, but for anyone 55 and older, it’s the game. If you want to move, you can move. If you don’t want to move too fast, you don’t have to ... We’re going to expand it to all ages, but I wanted to start with 55 and over because they’re the ones that really gravitate to it right away. Kids have about 28 sports to go to, but 55 and over who haven’t really moved in 10 or 20 years are a little leery of starting something. This, you just need your feet, and you swing your arm and it’s fun. That’s the key. It is F-U-N fun,” Kirchner said.


Flickinger said that people from “all walks can play, and continue to play it.”


“There are people on these courts that are playing into their 70s, 80s and above. Even though they don’t have the mobility that younger players do, they have such precision and finesse in the way that they play that they can just place the ball wherever and can still beat a younger, more agile player. It’s very humbling,” Flickinger said.


Flickinger said that her mission is for people to feel comfortable and welcome in her clinics, and “not to feel intimidated, and not feel they need to compare themselves to anyone else.”


“It will be a positive experience and they’ll have fun in the process. My whole clinic is all about having fun and being positive, and that’s what keeps the people coming back. We just laugh and have a great time the whole time we play,” Flickinger said.


For more information about Flickinger’s pickleball clinics, call (609) 561-5674.


To learn more about the pickleball lessons at Hammonton Skating and Fun Center, call (609) 561-8061 or visit hscfuncenter.com.