MARIETTA, Ga. - The newest sports craze sweeping through retirement communities across the country has reached Cobb County, with lessons and open court time available at local recreation centers and parks.
It's called "pickleball."
Enthusiasts and instructors had a pickleball exhibition recently at the Fullers Recreation Center off Robinson Road in east Cobb County.
Shouts of "I got it" filled the air along with the "pong, pong, pong" sounds of a hollow ball being batted back and forth by two ladies swinging paddles at center court.
Bill Hess, an ambassador for Cherokee County who competes in pickleball tournaments, said the new sport is designed for all ages and athletic ability.
"You can get to a level where you can play it and enjoy it very quickly," said Hess, who has taken weeklong vacations to Jamaica, Costa Rica and Mexico with his wife to participate in the sport.
The average pickleball game, which takes 15 to 17 minutes, is played until a team scores 11 points or more.
The winner must finish ahead of opponents by two points. Only the serving team can gain a point.
The 20-foot-by-44-foot court is the size of a badminton court, with a net 34 inches high, 2 inches shorter than a tennis court net.
Pickleball uses a plastic ball with holes, much like a whiffle ball but with less bounce, to strike against paddles, similar to pingpong paddles, made of wood and various composites with a fiber, plastic or aluminum core.
Lynn Paul, 66, who has lived in east Cobb for 13 years, said she has been playing tennis for 20 years until pickleball piqued her interest.
"I like the fact that it can be played almost anywhere," Paul said.
For instance, she highlights that within the next month, Cobb County's Shaw Park, off Canton Road, will have a flat surface painted with lines and fenced in for pickleball courts.
But the game is also just as easily played inside gymnasiums, meaning there are no rainouts or months for an off season.
Paul said pickleball also keeps her active and socializing because it is quick to learn and the type of people attracted to pickleball want more of a friendly competition.
"In tennis, I see more aggression," Paul said.
Also, part of the sociability of pickleball is that 85 percent of the matches are played as doubles, Hess said.
The USA Pickleball Association was founded in 1984. In 2003, there were 39 places offering pickleball in the nation; today the list has grown to 2,000 places, Hess said.
Traci Thomas, 48, who has been the tennis director at Lost Mountain Tennis Center in Powder Springs for 27 years, said she first saw pickleball played while visiting a retirement community in Kissimmee, Fla.
"I think it is one of the fastest growing sports," Thomas said.
She said it was just a matter of time before Cobb residents supported the momentum of pickleball.
"I just kept pushing towards it," Thomas said.
Hess said pickleball is perfect for older players who have had a hip or knee replacement and can no longer make the moves that tennis requires.
"It gives them the competitiveness of tennis and a lot of their skills carry over from tennis," Hess said.
Terry Mason, 62, who lives off Johnson Ferry Road, was getting in a good workout, breathing heavy and sweating on Tuesday morning on the makeshift pickleball courts at Fullers Recreation Center.
"I have been searching for this for months," said Mason, whose twin sister in Virginia has been playing for over a year. "That is all she talks about and how addictive it is."
Mason said she goes to the gym most days of the week and plays tennis, but pickleball is "a fun way to get exercise."
Thomas is hoping to play host to more open pickleball court hours in the evening at Cobb recreation centers and parks to promote kids getting into the action.
Because of the smaller court in pickleball, the ball does not travel as far or as fast as tennis, making it an easier game for kids who are not star athletes.
Thomas has lived in Cobb since she was 9 years old and attended Pebblebrook High School, attaining college scholarships by playing basketball, softball and tennis.
"This gives us another avenue or sport to keep kids off the street," Thomas said.