St. CLOUD -- If you haven't tried pickleball, you can bet there are a lot of people hanging out at the Whitney Senior Center this weekend who would tell you you're missing out.

"It's just the best sport ever," says Ann Litchy Martinez. 

Litchy Martinez and dozens of other pickleball players are facing off in the Minnesota Senior Games Pickleball tournaments, held Friday through Sunday at the Whitney.

Marci Sussenguth, Whitney Senior Center's Recreation Supervisor, says pickleball is something of a hybrid of tennis and badminton, played in a gymnasium, and is wildly popular all year long.

She says the Whitney Center alone has six courts open for regular play, and there are courts sprinkled around St. Cloud, Waite Park and Sartell.

It's the fastest growing sport in America. And we get all ages, all times of day - not just seniors.

Litchy Martinez is one of the Whitney's frequent year-round pickleball players. A former tennis player, she picked up the game seven years ago.

"I was addicted the first night," she laughs.

Pickleball 3 (1)

Litchy Martinez was introduced to the sport by her friend Kathy Waletzko, another former tennis player. Newly retired, Waletzko now plays the game 3-4 times a week at the Whitney.

She says, unlike tennis, pickleball paddles are "forgiving."

With a tennis racket, you have to hit it straight on. But a pickleball paddle is completely flat - you can hit the ball anywhere.

Both women acknowledge that their tennis pasts likely made the sport easy to pick up, but Waletzko says she thinks just about everyone can get into it - and they do.

I play with 20-year-olds on a regular basis. The people you meet are awesome. You're running a lot. You're exercising but it doesn't seem like it. You're laughing and sweating. It's the best.

The Minnesota Senior Games Pickleball tournament completed the singles contest on Friday, with doubles on Saturday and mixed doubles rounding the games out on Sunday.

The Minnesota Senior games include over 300 athletes ages 50 and up from around the state and the Midwest. Next year, the games will be held as the qualifier for the national games in 2021 in Florida.



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