ROCHELLE — Lauren Hintzsche was vacationing in Gulf Shores, Alabama roughly two years ago when she came across what she initially believed was a tennis court while she was on a walk.
Instead, Hintzsche saw some locals playing a relatively new sport called pickleball. Hintzsche, who taught physical education in Rochelle for nearly three decades, said she had some prior knowledge of the sport, but she had never seen the sport played up close until that day.
“I was familiar with the sport, but I had never played it or introduced my kids to it,” Hintzsche said. “I asked the gentleman at the court about playing and he told me to show up at 9 a.m. the next day. I was hooked from that moment and I played for nearly every day I was there.”
Pickleball was created in 1965 as a paddleball sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. Players use solid paddles to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net and attempt to score points. Two or four players can play on a court.
Like badminton, players serve the ball in an underarm fashion so that contact with the ball is made below the waist. Like tennis, players serve the ball behind the baseline and diagonally to the opponent’s service court. Unlike tennis, though, only the service side may score points.
“My attraction to the sport was that it was an easy game to learn and older people can play it,” Hintzsche said. “It can be played at any level from beginner to competitive play… We’ll have players show up to the REC Center and play just for the exercise and they’re having the time of their lives out there. I think it’s a great way to get people off their couches and into the gym.”
Since learning about pickleball on her vacation, Hintzsche has become much more active in the pickleball community. In addition to creating a Facebook page called Rochelle Pickleball several months ago, Hintzsche partnered with the Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District to teach monthly pickleball clinics and lead weekly open-court sessions at the REC Center every Wednesday evening from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and every Thursday morning from 8:30 to 11 a.m.
“It’s a sport that anybody can play,” Hintzsche said. “I’ve played with 80 and 90-year-olds and I’ve played with kids as young as 10 years old… When I started learning about the sport, I thought we needed to introduce it to as many people as possible. I reached out to the park district about what we could do and I volunteered to meet with people and teach them how to play. There was one outdoor court already lined for pickleball and another was lined this year.”
Hintzsche had been running clinics at the outdoor courts across from the REC Center for a few months, but with temperatures dropping, clinics are moving indoors to the REC Center. The clinics cost $5 and run 60 to 90 minutes in length. Hintzsche said the main goals of the clinics are to bring new players together to not only learn the basics, but enjoy friendly competition.
“I want to immerse people in the sport right away,” Hintzsche said. “I show people the basics and then we start playing games. We started off with only a few nets being used, which could hold up to eight people, but we have three nets set up on Wednesday nights now and we have people waiting to play. We could probably throw one or two more nets up in the future.”
Interested players can sign up for the clinics at the REC Center or on the Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District website at https://www.rochelleparkdistrict.org. The Rochelle Pickleball and Rochelle Community Park District Facebook pages are also resources for information about pickleball as well as upcoming pickleball clinics or open courts.
“I’ve had people come on Wednesdays and Thursdays and just watch pickleball,” Hintzsche said. “Once they see the sport and they see how much fun people have when they play… It’s competitive, but people aren’t going really hard and they’re having a lot of fun. I think people are seeing that pickleball isn’t a threatening sport and when they like it, they come back.”