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A tale of cardio and community

There are a variety of events in Farmville designed to help improve health and strengthen the bond of people in the community.

Both of those things happen twice weekly when a group of people from the area gathers at Firemen’s Sports Arena to play pickleball.

What is pickleball?

The Farmville Recreation Department (FRD) describes it as a fun and increasingly popular sport for all ages that combines ping pong, tennis and badminton. The game is played with two or four people on a badminton-sized court using paddles and a pickleball, which is similar to a wiffle ball.

“Pickleball is a smaller version of tennis, more technique and it’s quicker,” Interim Farmville Director of Recreation Naidy Perez said.

Lee Butler, of Farmville, was one of the players on hand Monday night, Feb. 24, and he has enjoyed playing pickleball for three or four years.

“It’s really fun,” he said. “It’s easy to pick up, especially if you’ve played the racket sports, tennis or ping pong or anything like that.”

Perez said the town’s pickleball sessions, scheduled 6-8 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday, have been drawing eight to 10 people each night. There is no concrete structure to them, like a league, to join.

“It’s whoever wants to come — intermediate, beginners, doesn’t matter,” she said.

She first learned the sport in high school when she played it just for fun in gym class. However, she has never had to tutor anyone in the sport here in Farmville because the regular players have that handled.

“They all know,” she said. “I started here, and they got me back into it and explained all the rules, in depth.”

She said there may be a singles version of the sport played elsewhere, but in Farmville, she has only ever seen participants play doubles, adding a key element of teamwork to the activity.

Contemplating the benefits the pickleball sessions hold for the community, Perez said they give people an opportunity to unwind, maybe after a rough day at work.

“It just brings people in from literally around the community, all ages, there’s no limit,” she said.

It has drawn mostly adults, lately. Monday, Feb. 24, eight people came to play until the end of the session at 8 p.m.

“If it’s a group like this where they’re constantly playing, they’ll take a little rest, switch the teams up or switch courts and just play,” Perez said.

Listening as the matches wore on, there is a cadence to pickleball. When a volley gets off the ground, it begins with the slow, steady drumbeat of the pickleball hitting a paddle after a long hit. Each doubles team is typically standing back away from the net during the initial volleys.

Then, inevitably, a shorter hit will occur, drawing the players closer to the net, and the drumbeat picks up in tempo significantly. It lasts longer than it would in tennis, where hitting a ball at a sharp angle just within the court boundary line can end a series of hits because the opposing player cannot run there in time. In pickleball, the court is smaller and players can often return a hit without moving, and they often do so without the pickleball even hitting the ground.

Eventually, though, a well-angled or simply well-timed, speedy hit will still end the volley.

Then comes a brief “ugh” of frustration from a player over a missed opportunity. It’s all in good fun, but they are still competitive, and they still want to play well and win.

Teresa Ragland, of Rice, was participating Monday along with her husband Bobby Ragland. They have played pickleball for two-and-a-half years. She said the social part of the Farmville sessions is what she enjoys most about them.

“We play in Richmond too, and it’s a little more intense there, so this is really kind of a nice place just to kind of chill, and it’s not so serious,” she said. “Good people here.”

Her husband agreed, adding that it is good exercise.

Players on hand Monday made it clear they would welcome more participants, and Perez has plans to help make that happen.

“I’m actually starting to create more flyers to put out there for people, because I think we can grow a lot more than we are right now and just get more people out here to enjoy it,” she said.