An unexpected Arizona rainstorm five years ago has resulted in a fast-growing sport taking hold at an athletic facility in East Lyme.
Kathy Reidy was at a tennis event in the state in 2014 when the deluge rained out the day’s activities. Whiling away her time indoors, she came across a group of people playing pickleball.
Pickleball has some similarities to tennis but is considered much more accessible to new players. A pickleball court is just 44 feet long by 20 feet wide – roughly half the size of a standard tennis court. Players wield paddles instead of racquets, and the limited flight ball travels more slowly and not as far as a tennis ball.
Although singles play is possible, most games have doubles. Since it proceeds at a more relaxed pace and requires players to cover less ground, pickleball has become especially popular among seniors. However, the game has also found appeal with people of all ages.
Reidy began taking lessons for the sport, and soon began playing it exclusively. She also became an official ambassador for the sport, getting certified as a teacher and referee. She approached Theresa Pearl, business manager at the Lyme Shores Tennis & Conditioning Center, to ask if the facility could host pickleball events.
The sport initially got off to a slow start. Just five people showed up at Lyme Shores’ introductory event. Reidy and another pickleball devotee, Margo Chase Wells, had to put down masking tape to outline the courts and remove it before tennis players arrived.
However, pickleball’s popularity soon reached southeastern Connecticut. On a Monday morning this spring, the center was filled with players learning the sport or playing doubles games. As part of a recent overhaul of Lyme Shores, blue paint was used to permanently outline pickleball courts on each of the center’s six tennis courts.
Between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, the courts are available for open play. Pickleball lessons are offered on Mondays, and tournaments among regular players are occasionally scheduled. Lyme Shores has also been chosen to host the Nutmeg State Games’ Fall Classic Pickleball Tournament on Oct. 5 and 6, an event expected to draw 300 or more players.
“Pickleball’s just been growing at a triple digit rate,” says Joe Kiah, general managing partner and treasurer at Lyme Shores. “It’s just becoming a very popular sport.”
Reidy says she focuses on the physical and social benefits of pickleball rather than the competitive aspects. People often trade partners, and can play at any skill level.
“It’s just an easy game to play, and a fun game to play,” she says. “It will put a smile on anyone’s face.”
As the summer approaches, Kiah says pickleball offers a good recreational option for anyone looking to escape the heat. The season also brings Lyme Shores’ regular summer programs, which open up the outdoor facilities and introduce tennis to children on school break.
The University of Tennis program, geared to children ages five to 16, runs from June 17 to Aug. 23 this year. It regularly attracts more than 200 attendees who go to half-day or full day sessions to learn about the sport from Lyme Shores’ tennis pros. Older teens can attend the High Performance Junior Tennis Program, which helps high school athletes hone their skills and stay in shape.
Andre Danford, the club’s general manager, says the program also aims to provide mentors for the youngsters. The goal is to challenge participants, but also create an enjoyable experience that will inspire a love of the sport.
“That’s how we choose our staff,” says Danford. “We want to pick people who are going to be great role models.”
Lyme Shores also has a recently refurbished swimming pool, which hosts a swim school in the summer. The lessons range from introductory lessons for preschoolers to advanced instruction for older children. The pool is also open to Lyme Shores members, and guests can buy a pool membership to cool off during the season.
In addition to the indoor courts, Lyme Shores has three outdoor Har-Tru courts. These courts are open to the public during the summer and can be rented for $20 an hour.
The Lyme Shores Tennis & Conditioning Center is located at 22 Colton Road in East Lyme. For more information, visit lymeshores.com or call 860-739-6281.
For more information on pickleball programs, contact Reidy at 860-301-1161 or email@example.com.