Pickleball popularity picking up

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ROBSON RANCH — Situated on less than half the size of a regular tennis court, pickleball is becoming a popular sport around the world, but most definitely at Robson Ranch where one of the current top-ranked singles players resides.

Pickleball is a combination of the paddle from ping pong and the layout of tennis and has taken hold among residents ages 50 and older for its conservation of movement. That doesn’t make it any less competitive, though Robson Ranch players say the rules of their pickleball courts require good sportsmanship and suggestions to limit steps in order to stay safe.

In fact, one of the active players is 85 and still going strong as he pops the light yellow ball over the net.

Chuck Utzman, who played racquetball for years, took up the sport six years ago. A man of few words but more action, Utzman simply said, “It’s good” when asked about how pickleball has become a part of his life.

Irene and Bob Romagosa play pickleball daily – seven days a week rain or shine. At Robson Ranch, pickleball is available on both indoor and outdoor courts.

“We just love it,” Irene said. “It’s our addiction.”

The couple, who lived in northwest Arkansas and Louisiana before moving to Robson Ranch just south of Denton off Interstate 35W, have taken pickleball to the next level, traveling to competitions near and far.

Former racquetball and tennis players, the couple said the evolution to pickleball made sense. And, it was a way to meet new people at the tournaments as well as around their home at Robson Ranch.

Currently, the couple and several other residents are gearing up for the USAPA National competition in Buckeye, Ariz., on Nov. 2. Arizona, in particular Phoenix, is considered the capital of pickleball, they said.

But Robson Ranch in Denton could be a contender with more than 250 members of the Robson Ranch Denton Pickleball Club including a number of nationally-ranked players.

Ford Roberson, who many call “Coach,” is currently ranked No. 1 in men’s singles for the men’s 60s category. The categories are separated into age groups as well as singles, doubles and mixed doubles as well as skill levels. The idea, he said, is to match players to minimize advantages as well as the potential for incurring injuries.

“We tell beginners they should not have to take more than two steps to hit the ball,” he said. The suggestion avoids unnecessary movement and reduces potential injuries.

Roberson played tennis competitively at the national level and, upon arriving at Robson Ranch, heard about pickleball.

He quickly earned his moniker after ranking among the top players shortly after picking up the game.

“It does transfer over,” he said of his experience on the tennis court. Some refer to pickleball as “table tennis on steroids” while other label it “mini-tennis.”

Whatever they call the budding sport, it is gaining popularity among senior citizen centers around the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as with the younger set.

Several Robson Ranch players travel to the nearby Argyle Independent School District where they work with students to teach them about pickleball.

The Robson Ranch pickleball players have traveled from San Antonio to Monroe, La., to Nashville, Tenn., to Omaha, Neb.  Recently, they jaunted to Arkansas.

The social aspects of playing pickleball are as important to Irene and Bob as the game.
“For us, it’s about the social part of it,” Irene said.

Besides the opportunity to meet people, pickleball has the side benefit of helping some lose weight.

Barry Pocock, president of the Robson Ranch Denton Pickleball Club, said he lost 55 pounds. Four players have lost between 45 to 70 pounds, he said.

“You play this game for an hour to two hours and you feel tired but elated,” Pocock said. Rules of the court require each player to meet in the middle after a game and give “high fives” all around. Each game lasts about 10 to 15 minutes and players often play four games.

His hope, Pocock said, is to expand the pickleball courts at Robson and run a tournament at the Denton location.

The club also hosts Pickleball Academy, which includes six sessions about an hour and a half each to show beginners or those interested in the game how to play safely, Pocock said.

The cost of playing pickleball is well within the reach of most anyone’s wallet. A paddle costs between $55 to $105 while each ball costs $1.80 to $2 each. Court rentals might average about $9.

“It isn’t an expensive sport to set up,” Pocock said.

To find out more about the Robson Ranch Denton Pickleball Club, visit http://www.rrdpc.com/.

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