Pickleball catching on at Wellness Center
Athletes young and old at the Cape Coral Hospital’s Wellness Center are finding fun in an obscure sport.
For almost a year now, the center has offered pickleball on the indoor basketball courts seven days a week. The game of pickleball is similar to tennis – one-on-one or two-player teams – and is played on a badminton-sized court. It involves large Ping Pong-shaped paddles and a wiffleball-type of ball.
John Croce, wellness and fitness supervisor for the center, was teaching a class at a local high school when he stumbled upon the game. He explained that it is less demanding on the joints and requires less running, noting that the popularity of tennis in the country has dropped as more people learn about it.
“So it’s perfect for our demographics,” Croce said.
After attending the recent Florida Senior Games in Estero, where pickleball was one of the featured competitions, he was sold on the game. Croce watched as nine courts were filled with players all day.
“I didn’t know how popular it was,” he said.
Enter Cape resident and pickleball player Mike Welter, who has placed at the state Senior Games, as well as medaled in both the singles and doubles competition at the bigger National Senior Games.
“I’ve got a lot of (competition) T-shirts,” he laughed.
Welter helped the center acquire the equipment it needed, like a net and paddles, to offer visitors a chance to try pickleball. He said it can be played indoors or outdoors, and it is easier than tennis.
“It’s a lot like tennis. You serve cross court,” Welter said, noting that players can serve underhand and the ball can be hit in the air or bounce off the floor. “The swing is more like a Ping Pong swing.”
Time slots were then carved out for the pickleball players to use the basketball courts.
“More people are playing pickleball than basketball,” Croce said.
He explained that four people may play one day, followed by a waiting list the next day.
Two new additions to the game are Tyler Mitchell, 18, and Justin Battig, 17. The Cape Coral High School seniors are active, playing tennis, baseball and such, but had never heard of pickleball.
“About six months ago, we were busy working out and Mike (Welter) came up and asked us if we wanted to learn a new sport,” Mitchell said, adding that the game has an odd-sounding name to him.
After knocking out a game with Welter and his wife, the teens were hooked.
“It’s really fun. It’s a lot like tennis,” Mitchell said. “It’s a really good workout, too.”
The teens have introduced family and friends to the sport; Mitchell’s father swings by weekly.
“It’s a really mental game. It’s all about placement and hustle,” the teen said.
“It should be a school sport, I think,” Mitchell added.
Like many others, Welter kind of stumbled upon pickleball. A former tennis player, he signed up to serve as a ball boy for the Florida Senior Games when it needed volunteers several years ago.
“I was watching it and I said, ‘I can do this,'” he said.
If a visitor needs instruction or a partner, the center staff is always ready to step in.
“All of our fitness specialists know the game of pickleball now,” Croce said.
“It’s bringing out a lot of energy in our members,” he added.
One-day and one-week passes to the Wellness Center are available.
“Just to try out our facility,” Croce said.
“Pickleball is just another avenue to get in shape,” he added.
Various long-term membership packages are also available for purchase.
For more information, call (239) 424-3220 or visit: www.leememorial.org/wellness.
Pickleball is open on the basketball courts on Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon and 3-5 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 3-5:30 p.m., and Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon and 4-8 p.m. The courts are also open Saturday and Sunday for pickleball from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Wellness Center at the Cape Coral Hospital is at 609 S.E. 13th Court.