DALLAS — Back in the fall, Jane Steele hadn’t even heard of pickleball, much less played it.
Now, it’s her favorite sport.
“I’m addicted,” admitted Steele, from Clarks Summit. “I can’t stop playing.”
That seems to be the case for a lot of competitors who entered doubles play of the Senior Games of the Keystone State Games.
They flooded Newberry Estates Country Club on Thursday for an event that not only awarded the top three teams medals in each age category but also served as a national qualifier for the sport.
“We have 147 people,” said Keystone Games pickleball coordinator Jack Monick, a former athletic director at Penn State/Wilkes-Barre. “For this age bracket, they’re all excited about playing to get to nationals.”
They came carrying racquets made of solid composite that more resembled paddles, to bat a ball they describe as being similar to a very hard whiffle ball, over a net about half the width of those used for tennis.
“I played tennis and racquetball before,” said Steele, who didn’t pick up pickleball until October after a friend in Michigan introduced her to it during a visit to the midwest last year. “This is a little bit of everything — tennis, badminton and ping-pong, kind of.”
Steele didn’t win, but she didn’t feel as if she’d lost, either, while making her first Keystone Games appearance in the sport.
“Oh, it was fun for me,” said Steele, who began playing pickleball at Birchwood Racquet Club nine months ago and now plays the sport with her husband at the Wilkes-Barre YMCA. “I’ve never played outdoors. It’s very different. It’s good to learn how to do both.”
The football flew out of Bonnie Strang’s hand and, after it fell to the ground.
Then it kept rolling, much to the 75-year-old Media resident’s delight — until she was told by Keystone Games officials that her distance would be recorded where the ball first hit.
“I got a good roll,” Strang demanded, with mock irritation. “Gotta put it way out there. Oh, we’re not playing roll ball?”
Strang was one of more than a dozen people who signed up for the event, arriving at Kirby Park right after playing pickleball doubles in Dallas.
“I’ve been coming (to the Keystone Games) for five or six years,” Strang said. “I wanted to keep on doing what I’ve been doing.”
Even if she doesn’t do things quite as well as she once did.
“As you get older, the distances (of her throws) keep getting less and less, shorter and shorter,” Strang said.
Still, she was hoping to wind up as one of the few competitors in her age bracket, which would mean a gold, silver or bronze medal.
“The medals are really nice,” Strang said, “probably the nicest medals I get anywhere.”
The winner of the competition was 65-year-old Robert Jacoby of Hershey, who was the overall leader in both the football and softball throws.
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski