Pickleball reunites tennis team

Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014, 7:23 pm
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John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

BETTENDORF -- On a sun-drenched summer morn, they sat left to right, the way they played. Judy Petersen, the taller one, handled the left side of the tennis court. Cathy Gaines patrolled the right.

For a moment they are teens again, dominating singles and doubles matches across the land. Time was the Davenport West (Petersen) and Davenport Central (Gaines) grads handled all that dared get in their way.

Jump ahead five decades.

Petersen and Gaines again are sharing a court. Gaines, suffering from severe back pain, turned to Petersen, who turned Gaines on to pickleball, the fastest growing sport in the nation. And the two -- like any pickleball player -- are having a grand time.

Pickleball is a racquet sport in which two to four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a polymer perforated ball over a net. The sport has features of other racquet sports, the dimensions and layout of a badminton court and a net and rules similar to tennis, with a few modifications.

Pickleball was invented in the mid-1960s as a children's backyard pastime but quickly became popular among adults as a game for players of all skill levels.

The pickleball court is similar to a doubles badminton court. The actual size of the court is 20-by-44 feet for doubles and singles. The net is hung at 36 inches on the ends and 34 inches in the middle. The court is striped like a tennis court, with no alleys. The ball is served underhand from behind the baseline, diagonally to the opponent's service zone.

Pickleball is a blast.

"Great fun, great growth locally and a sport that is made for all,'' said Dean Easterland, local ambassador for the Quad Cities Pickleball Club. Easterland is a first-rate spokesman for the game.

Injured in a fall and in need of something to take her mind off the pain, Gaines turned to pickleball at Petersen's suggestion. Petersen plays tennis and pickleball three times per week.

"It's more mental for me,'' said Gaines, who likely will require surgery on a damaged vertebrae but still shows great skill on the pickleball court.

"I'm in pain, but this game is so much fun and it's so social, it takes my mind off my back," she said. "Sure I'm sore after I play, but I'm OK to deal with what I have to do pain-wise after I play. The game's fantastic, and I cannot wait for that day when I'm 100 percent and can really play it.''

Similar to Gaines, Petersen is a ray of sunshine and a gifted athlete, dedicated to teaching the game as well as playing it. Pickleball is a natural progression and a perfect complement to her mixed doubles tennis game.

It's also a chance to connect socially with the other 170-plus members the Quad Cities Pickleball Club (qcpickleball.wordpress.com).

"I love that Cathy is back and playing,'' Petersen said. "I get exercise six days a week thanks to tennis and pickleball. I love tennis and the people I play with, and I love pickleball in that it is great exercise, is social and there is great honesty and camaraderie in playing the game. Tennis complements pickleball, and pickleball complements tennis.''

Pickleball is not about court success the way tennis was for Gaines and Petersen 50 years ago. That said, they remain fierce competitors but simply enjoy the chance to play.

"It's nice to be around Judy and nice to play and be around so many wonderful people,'' Gaines said. "I had reached a point where I could no longer sit around and deal with the pain in my back, but now I have this. It's fun, it's rewarding and it takes me -- and some others -- back to a different time.''

And puts two great friends back on the court.

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.


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  Today is Saturday, Sept. 20, the 263rd day of 2014. There are 102 days left in the year.

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1914 -- 100 years ago: Wires of the defunct Union Electric Co. are being removed by city electricians.
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1989 -- 25 years ago: Members of the Bi-State Metropolitan Planning Commission are hoping to revive their push for a new $70 million four-lane bridge spanning the Mississippi River.

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