STOCKTON — “KA-CHOCK!! KA-CHOCK!! KA-CHOCK!!”

This distinctive echoing sound of a paddle making contact with a plastic ball can be heard coming from the indoor tennis courts at In-Shape Sports Club-West Lane on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

But instead of tennis, two of the indoor facility’s courts at West Lane have become repurposed for what is considered an up-and-coming recreational sport — pickleball.

Since November 2016, In-Shape West Lane has been the site of a social drop-in for a sport which is a hybrid of tennis, badminton and table tennis. The get-togethers, which are open to the public, normally have 30 or more individuals gather for friendly competition. Doubles is played mostly, but a few younger individuals also play singles.

Stockton’s John Ellis, a former world-ranked racquetball player, has been the driving force behind bringing pickleball to his home club, which has two tennis courts indoors and several other courts outside repainted with yellow lines specifically for pickleball.

Ellis said it gained popularity because it is an easy sport to learn, the compactness of the court, which is the size of a badminton court (20 feet wide by 44 feet), and the speed of the points. It also is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of varying ages, and skill level is not a requirement, although more successful players benefit from a background in a racquet sport.

“There’s a lot of people who are picking up on the craze for pickleball,” Ellis said. “To be honest there are a lot of senior citizens here who are retired and they have the time, and have the opportunity to enjoy a sport again in their life, whereas maybe they’re past the stage in some of the sports they grew up playing and enjoyed in their adulthood. Whether they played tennis or racquetball, pickleball is something that they can play. It’s gentle on the body but still being exciting and reflex-based.”

The equipment used in pickleball normally consists of a solid paddle made out of wood or composite material, and a ball that’s similar to a wiffleball. Scoring is similar to racquetball in which a point can only be scored by the server or serving team. The one major different pickleball has from other racquet sport is players can not enter a non-volley zone (called “the kitchen”) unless a ball bounces inside.

Because of the close quarters in pickleball, there can be some heart-pounding rallies, according to Ellis.

“The nature of the sport has its gentle side where you are just dropping the ball over the net into the kitchen and having nice rallies until someone makes a mistake, then it’s a reflex, out-of-the-air, bang-bang kind of shotmaking,” Ellis said. “Some rallies can get crazy fast, and that’s exciting to watch, but a lot of people can be good at this sport.”

The drop-in sessions have attracted a wide range of people, from teenagers to senior citizens. A good portion of the participants, however, are age 60 and older.

“It’s a great game for grandparents and grandkids,” said John Callahan, 74, of Lodi. “Also, John Ellis’s daughter (Jordan) who is 10 years old, is playing against all us adults and is very good at it. It’s a family sport not just for seniors.”

Fred Jantz, a pastor at Lincoln Presbyterian Church in Stockton, used to play basketball, volleyball and racquetball before pickleball.

“My wife decided to try it, and at first I thought the name was goofy so I dissed it off, then she got me to try it and then I liked it,” Jantz said. “It’s a lot of fun with a lot of good people then you get a nice sweaty workout.”

Mo Hicks of Linden was a longtime table tennis enthusiast and found it easy to crossover. Cookie Bowden of Stockton learned pickleball after playing racquetball and tennis for 42 years and said it was “was easier on the aging.”

David Wright, general manager at In Shape-West Lane, has been pleased since pickleball has been part of his club’s programming.

He said that In Shape-West Lane is having its Fight Cancer Awareness campaign in October, and the club will host its first pickleball tournament, in conjunction with a racquetball tourney, which will benefit the American Cancer Society and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

“We have a good following especially on Sundays when John (Ellis) and some of the younger guys are playing,” Wright said. “We’re looking to see how far we can go with this sport and go from there. … We’re also trying to get more play in the evenings as well.”

 

Contact reporter Tony Acosta at (209) 546-8292 or tacosta@recordnet.com.