Gary McClure, a longtime resident of Independence who was the golf pro at the Drumm Farm Golf Club for many years, is retired and was looking for an outlet to get some exercise.
He ran into a friend, who suggested pickleball, the wildly popular sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong into a way of life that is played three days a week at the Palmer Center, 218 N. Pleasant St., a few blocks west of the Independence Square.
“I was actually talking with Hap Graff (former president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce) and told him I was looking for some kind of activity, and he told me about pickleball,” McClure said, between pickleball sets, as sweat streamed down his face.
“This is just my second week. I’m a newbie, and believe me, you work up a sweat! I’ve played a lot of golf over the years, but I never came home after playing golf as sore as I did after playing pickleball for the first time.”
“I had to ice areas I’d never iced before.”
After pausing a moment between sets, McClure was back on the court with a new partner and a new challenge.
“When I lost my husband one and a half years ago,” said Independence resident Judy Brooks, “I was looking for something to do, and a friend suggested pickleball, and I am so glad they did.”
“I have played tennis forever, and now that I am a bit older, I really enjoy playing pickleball – the size of the court, playing doubles, you can always come up here and find someone to play a game with – it’s great.”
While Brooks is a novice, she points toward a gentleman making the ball dip, dive and skip across the court.
“That’s Burney Gibson,” she said, with a touch of pride in her voice. “He’s one of the best players here. We all enjoy having him as our teammate.”
Gibson has been playing pickleball eight years and savors his trips to the Palmer Center.
“It’s a lot of fun, but as you can see, there are players here of all skill levels,” said Gibson, who lives in Independence. “Sure, everyone wants to win, but I enjoy the competition and, if I can help teach a newcomer, I really enjoy that, too.”
On this day, the dean of all pickleball players is watching and “learning” from the sidelines.
“I love the sport and believe you can always learn something,” said 87-year-old Richard Skinner, an Independence resident who has been playing for more than a decade. “I’ve played a lot of softball, and I played some tennis when I was younger, but I’ve never played a sport that makes you sweat like pickleball.”
“I’m still competitive and if your team wins, you can stay on the court for another match. I like that -- but I like watching, too. You can usually find me up here on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It’s kind of become a way of life for all of us.”
WANT TO PLAY?
To play pickleball at the Palmer Center, you must be 60 or older and register at the front desk upon arrival. There is a $10 annual pass for Independence residents and a $25 pass for non-residents. Or an individual can pay $2 for a one-time trip to the courts.
The schedule, which has expanded to complement the number of players wishing to take part in the sport is:
• Beginners – Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 1 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m. to noon.
• Open play – Tuesday and Thursday, 1-4 p.m., Saturday noon to 2 p.m.
• Advanced play – Tuesday and Thursday, 4-5:30 p.m., Saturday 2-4:45 p.m.
Nets, balls and paddles for new players are all provided. Players must provide athletic or rubber-soled shoes, and are encouraged to wear clean, comfortable clothing.
Players are self-rated and are encouraged to review the guidelines of the USA Pickleball Association. Lessons are available.
All games feature doubles play, as two players face off on each side of the net. A winning team can remain on the court and play one more match against a new team.