Play pickleball, make a new friend

·3 min read

Jun. 27—FAIRMONT — Willa VanGilder is 86-years-old and loves playing pickleball.

"You fall in love with the game right away," said VanGilder, who's been playing for the last seven years. "You hit one good shot and it feels great."

Pickleball is described as a cross between tennis and ping-pong. Like tennis, it can be played in doubles or singles and takes place on a 20-foot by 44-foot, badminton-sized court with a low-set net. Each player uses what looks like an oversized table tennis paddle and the game is played with a rubber wiffle ball.

The rules are similar to tennis with a few twists.

"There are 62 pages, front and back of rules," VanGilder said.

But despite the pile of rules, the concept of the game is simple — players can't let the ball bounce twice on their side of the net, else the opponent scores a point.

Games are played to 11 points and, to win, a team must win by two points in similar fashion to table tennis.

All these factors come together to make pickleball one of the most accessible sports for any skill and age. Pickleball is also one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.

VanGilder and her group play in the basement gym of the Central Christian Church on Big Tree Drive. They meet Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 10 a.m. till 12 p.m. and Sunday nights at 6.

"[The game] is fun. It's not too much running but it's a lot of exercise," said Sandy West, one of the women who play with VanGilder. "The people make it the most fun."

VanGilder began playing pickleball when her neighbor invited her to a group who play in a park in Morgantown. She fell in love with the sport and wanted to start a group in Fairmont.

"Even though I'm old, I'm active and I like running and playing," VanGilder said. "I'd rather play than clean house any day."

It was obvious the reach of pickleball is widespread, each of the players had some story about being told by a friend or family member all about this great game called pickleball.

"My mother had a really good friend who told her all about playing pickleball," said Susan Haun, one of the players at the church. "My mother kept telling me, 'You need to look into that!' so I did."

For each of the women, one of the most attractive aspects of the game is the people they get to meet and befriend.

"It's the camaraderie. I love the people and I love the friends," Haun said. "Plus all I have to think about is getting that little ball over the net for two hours."

VanGilder's group isn't the only crew of pickleballers in Marion County. Another group plays at the basketball courts in East Marion Park Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from 6 until 9 p.m. And the City of Fairmont has mentioned in council meetings about possibly looking to add pickleball courts to some parks in the city.

Anyone interested in getting into pickleball should simply show up to either the East Marion Park basketball courts or the Central Christian Church at the times mentioned here. Both groups welcome anyone of any skill level.

"I don't think anyone tries it and says, 'Oh I don't like that,'" VanGilder said. "It's just takes a bit of energy and it's just a fun sport."

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at

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