SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Renee Coplan played racquetball for 28 years, but had to give it up as she got older and chasing a ball around a large court became too much.
Just when she thought her days of playing court games were over, someone suggested she give pickleball a try.
Her reaction was about what you'd expect from someone who had never heard of a sport named after a garnish.
"They said pickleball and I said, 'Excuse me, pickleball?'" Coplan said. "But then I tried it and I absolutely loved it."
Created on the whim of a U.S. Congressman (more on that later), pickleball has become a big hit in senior communities around the country, and is gaining steam with younger players and at schools, too.
A hybrid of tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball is played on a court a quarter the size of a tennis court, with hard rackets and a variety of whiffle ball.
The smaller area and slower pace are perfect for seniors who want to stay active — much easier on the joints and lungs than tennis. It's an easy sport to pick up for novices, and fun enough that kids and their grandparents can play on the same court.
Pickleball also can be challenging, requiring quick reactions as players trade rapid-fire shots at the net.
For those who have discovered the game, the familiar sound of the ball off the racket becomes intoxicating.
"You get up in the morning and hear that pick-pock, pick-pock and it's addictive," said Keith Darrow, who lives in the same Sun City Grand retirement community as Coplan. "You just tell the wife: 'I gotta go.'"
Here's the basics:
— There's usually four players — two each side on a team — playing over a net slightly lower than in tennis.
— Players swing rackets that look like a beefed-up version of a beach paddleball paddle and hit a whiffle ball that's slightly harder than the play-in-the-streets variety.
— The serve is underhanded and goes diagonally like in tennis, but the ball must bounce once on each side before players are allowed to hit a volley (out of the air).
— Inside "The Kitchen," a 7-foot zone on both sides of the net, volleying is not allowed; players have to let the ball bounce once if they're in that area.
— Teams only score when they're serving, and each player gets a turn before the other side gets a shot.
There are a few more rules, but the main thing is that pickleball is a blast.