Pickleball an Unexpected Hit in JP

What started as an idea for getting out and moving around turned into more than 200 interested JP residents coming down to South St. tennis courts each Saturday morning to play pickleball.

Similar to tennis and ping pong, the game of pickleball has not long been a common one in the City of Boston and the surrounding area, but over the past few years, the sport has gained traction, especially in Jamaica Plain.

A group was formed by Karen McCormack and Colleen Scanlan of McCormack & Scanlan Real Estate in 2017 with just a few members from the office, and has now grown to around 200 people.

McCormack said that Scanlan discovered the game of pickleball while on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, and thought it might be a fun way to get some exercise.

She said that they reached out to a Massachusetts pickeball ambassador, Peter Sullivan, who came to the South St. tennis courts by the McCormack and Scanlan office and “chalked off the lines for a pickeball court.”

McCormack said even on the very first day they were at the courts, people walking by would stop and ask what they were doing and how they could get involved.

“We’re right on the main street, so many people are walking by or coming to play tennis,” McCormack said. “It’s such a super fun sport that is really social also.”

Paula Callaghan, a realtor at McCormack and Scanlan, has been a part of the group since its inception. She explained that the game involves four people on the court at once, two on each side of the net. The paddles are a squarish shape, and the court is about half the size of a tennis court. A wiffle ball type ball is used.

“It’s all about hand-eye coordination,” she said.

McCormack said that “one of the best parts of the sport” is that it’s “open to so many age levels and athletic abilities.” She said the group in JP includes people from ages 18 all the way up to their 70s and 80s.

She said some members have come out of retirement from tennis, and others have never played a sport in their life. Since the court is a fairly small size and no running is involved, it is a popular activity for many people.

“Some of them are feeling like they’re athletes for the first time in their lives,” she said.

“We now offer beginner sessions for eight to 10 weeks,” McCormack said. “We do it all for free. We didn’t realize how many people were going to get into it.”

Callaghan said that the average age in this league is about mid-40s up to about 70s, though there are some younger players as well.

“It’s nice because the courts aren’t taken over by young kids the whole time,” she said.

The pandemic put a damper on the pickleball playing, however. In 2020, the group did not gather to play because of safety concerns.

But this year, with vaccines, more and more people are comfortable coming out again, especially since the activity is outside.

“People were ready to get out of the house,” McCormack said.

After asking the city to come down and paint more lines, she said there are now six pickleball courts at the South St. tennis courts. There are no permanent pickleball nets, however, so those looking to play the game outside of when the league is there will have to bring their own.

But show up on a Saturday morning, and all the equipment is there, including balls, paddles, and nets, all of which have been purchased by McCormack and Scanlan.

Beginners can learn the ropes of the game without having to worry about having their own equipment.

So many people have expressed interest, however, that McCormack has had to limit the number of people who can come each week to about 50 per Saturday, and people can only come every other Saturday to ensure all are given a chance.

“It’s fantastic,” McCormack said of the game. “It’s become such a huge part of my social life.” Before starting the league, she said she had never even heard of pickleball.

“It seemed like a retirement sport,” she said. “It’s big in places where there are a lot of retirees.” But she quickly learned that that is not necessarily the case, and she said she feels it is a “good idea to bring to the community.”

Though it was originally Scanlan’s idea, “I’m the one who fell in love,” she said.

She said she’s also been encouraging the city to offer it to adults a couple of times a week, and she said that beginning in 2020, all tennis courts that are resurfaced will have pickleball lines added.

She said word of mouth about the game has spread extremely quickly in the neighborhood, and she said she gets three to four emails daily from different people who want to learn more about how they can get involved.

She also said the sport is not only fairly physically accessible, but also monetarily accessible. People can play in her league in JP for free, and other communities charge a small fee to play the game, unlike tennis, where many people belong to an expensive club to play.

Callaghan said that “it’s amazing” how many people have connected with one another in the neighborhood through this game.

“The people you meet,” she added, become “friends for life.”

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