HARKER HEIGHTS — A loud pop echoed through the gym when Bob Harnage’s wooden paddle hit a perforated plastic baseball. The ball spined through the air and over a 34-inch net.
Although Harnage hasn’t picked up a pickleball paddle in nearly a decade, it didn’t take long for the senior to regain his skills.
“I’m not sure that I can even hold my paddle right,” said Harnage, before playing his first match against a group of pickleball enthusiasts Thursday at the Harker Heights Recreation Center. “I consider myself a novice. I guess we’ll find out.”
Pickleball is a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton and tennis.
“It’s a lot more popular than I thought. When I first got here, I had no idea what it was,” said Samantha Hanie, athletic coordinator at the recreation center. “I’ve joined them a couple of times and I work up a serious sweat. They love it.”
Harnage decided to take up the sport again as an enjoyable way to get good exercise.
“I just retired and wanted to keep my physical well-being,” he said.
The sport is popular among senior women, whose husbands often socialize on the sidelines.
“It’s a nice sport, but these nice ladies here will tear you up,” Harnage said. “It’s competitive, but it’s a fun competitive.”
Harnage’s partner during Thursday’s doubles game was Charlotte Maindelle. The 67-year-old started playing a few years ago and was quickly addicted to the game.
Three summer’s ago, Maindelle, a school nurse, came every Tuesday and Thursday the sport was offered at the center.
“When I went back to school in the fall I was like, ‘Gee, it’s Tuesday, I should be playing,’” Maindelle said. She started working part-time at the school to make more time for pickleball.
When she first started, she didn’t know what to expect.
“I just dropped in and saw how they were doing it and started playing. The rules are a little complicated, but it doesn’t take long,” she said. “Once you start playing, you want to play more.”
The first time Diane Cline saw people play the game eight years ago, she thought, “Wow, I need to play that game.”
Once you see it, you just know you want to at least try it, Cline said. “When I started (everyone) was so helpful. If someone comes, we don’t immediately say, ‘Oh, we’re gonna kill this ball.’”
Seniors with a good hand-eye coordination can quickly master the sport with a little practice, Cline said. “It’s wonderful exercise, we have a lot of fun and we just totally enjoy the game.”
It’s not a physical sport, so seniors with physical limitations or in wheelchairs also can play, Maindelle said. The people are friendly and encouraging, and although it gets competitive, they’re nice about it.
“Win or lose, we all have a good time,” Cline said.