A not-so-new game has finally arrived in Effingham.

First invented in the 1960s, pickleball just recently became offered in Effingham after eight courts were installed at Hendelmeyer Park last month.

"It’s been around since 1965," said Ardell Huntington, who has spearheaded the effort to bring pickleball to Effingham. "And seniors play it a lot. We have a lot of tennis players and they can’t move as much."

Huntington may be 74 but her enthusiasm for the game is infectious. The Effingham woman has taught kids as young as 9 and seniors as old as 91 how to play the game down in Florida, where she vacations every winter.

Huntington said she first approached the Effingham Park District about four years ago about offering pickleball. It didn't materialize until this past spring when pickleball courts were striped on the tennis courts at Hendelmeyer Park May 17 and a clinic on how to play was held that evening.

Since then, Ardell has recruited close to 50 players, though a handful typically shows up for the pickleball free play held at Hendelmeyer.

"Right now we’re just trying to teach people how to play and then hope they’ll bring more people to the game," said Huntington.

And for many of the area pickleball players, the sport is easy to pick up and doesn't require vigorous exercise to play.

"You don’t have to do all the running," said 75-year-old Mary Willenborg of Effingham. "It’s just hand/eye coordination really."

"What I love about the game is you don’t have to be super athletic, especially down there," added C.J. Rogger, who typically vacations in Florida every winter where pickleball is very popular. "You see people who would not normally play tennis or golf (play pickleball). And it’s also such a good social thing. You meet a lot of people."

For St. Anthony tennis coach Darlene Esker, it took some time adjusting to the smaller paddle and pickleball itself, which resembles a heavy whiffle ball.

"You don’t have to move as much and you still get all your swings in," said Esker, 67. "It’s kind of all the same thing (as tennis) with a smaller court and different kind of instrument or paddle.

"It’s shorter quicker steps," added Esker. "It’s not like running a mile where you have to keep going forever and ever and ever to get done. Every point, if it lasts a minute, that’s a long point."

While the game shares some similarities with tennis, pickleball does have its own unique rules.

"There’s really only two main rules, the non-volley zone, which is the area 7 feet from the net, and the double bounce rule," explained Huntington.

In particular, the player receiving the serve must let it bounce before returning it. When it comes back to the serving side, they also have to let it bounce. After that, the ball does not have to bounce before being struck, though it can’t be hit in the non-volley zone or "kitchen" at that point.

Serves must also be underhanded and below the waste. Players get only one serve attempt and can only score when serving. Pickleball can be played in doubles, typically the first to 11, or singles, the first to seven.

"It’s a sport anybody can play," said Debbie Owen, 66, of Effingham. "That’s what is so neat about it. ...We can’t thank the park district enough for painting the courts and ordering all the nets and balls. We’re just thrilled."

For the month of June, anyone interested in playing is encouraged to either show up Monday through Friday from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. for free play or Monday and Friday evenings starting at 6 p.m. at Hendelmeyer Park.

"We're trying to get more people to come out and play," said Huntington. "There is room for 32 people to play at the same time. I'd love to see those courts filled up. ...Everybody is welcome to come out and play. We’ve got the equipment. We’ll teach you how to play. It’s a great game."

Eventually, Huntington would like to see so much interest that a league is formed through the park district. The Effingham woman says she is also hoping indoor pickleball courts will eventually be installed at the Workman Sports Complex.

"If we get enough players, it would be like women's doubles, men's doubles and mixed doubles," explained Huntington. "That would be terrific if we could get that going. And ultimately, if we could get our own facility or pickleball courts, that would be even better."

For more information about the adult pickleball free play, call the Effingham Park District at 217-342-4415.

Contact Keith Stewart at keith.stewart@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 132.

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