By David Rogers. April 5, 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Surely, the rules of Pickleball were concocted by some hard-charging military officer. General George Patton in Sicily and France, as well as Teddy Roosevelt leading a charge up San Juan Hill come to mind.
“It is ILLEGAL to step backward,” Dr. Robert Shirley said on Saturday, March 28th, just a day before the Town closed Memorial Park’s playground and courts. Dr. Shirley was admonishing a newspaper editor trying his hand at the nation’s fastest-growing sport. “You can turn and run toward the back of the court to hit a ball, but you are not allowed to back up!” he said, convincingly.
What’s next? I have to tie a howitzer to my shoelaces?
There were plenty of fist pumps but nary a fist (or even elbow) “bump” when a small group of Blowing Rock residents gathered to enjoy a “Chamber of Commerce” day — playing Pickleball — in Memorial Park. While enjoying the games, they were all about social distancing: the faux “high fives” for a good shot crafted from at least six feet away, if not from across the court on the other side of the net.
And after each game, the ball (an enlarged version of the Wiffle ball) was carefully rinsed in Clorox bleach.
Whereas Wiffle ball more closely resembles baseball, Pickleball is more like tennis — but using something more akin to a ping-pong paddle than a tennis racquet — and about half the court size that has been home to such netting legends as Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal, the Williams sisters, Andre Agassi, and the like.
The sport that has spurred court construction (or relining for multi-use facilities) not just in Memorial Park, Blowing Rock Country Club, and Chetola, as well as the new Watauga County Parks & Recreation complex currently under construction, has few peers in its budding popularity, especially among active seniors. Even in a normally quiet little town like Blowing Rock there have been mild dustups (words exchanged, no paddles or punches thrown!) between basketball players and Pickleball enthusiasts. The latter has gained so much traction in “The Crown of the Blue Ridge” that it has even made Town Council meeting appearances at least twice in the last year and was the subject of the Council Retreat discussions in January.
But like just about everything else in North Carolina that involves groups of people, Pickleball playing has come to a grinding halt in Blowing Rock.
The sport’s advocates are anxious for its return, to be sure. And once the courts are re-opened, look for a charge back into Memorial Park’s courts worthy of Patton and Roosevelt’s Rough Riders combined.