EAST PROVIDENCE — Repatriating himself to East Providence after several years in Florida, city native Jim Maynard is hoping he can instill the fervent passion he picked up for a game quirkily named “Pickle Ball” to some folks in his hometown.
Mr. Maynard, 75, discovered Pickle Ball, a racquet game, early on during his six-year stay down south. He and his wife, Joan, retired to the Tanglewood community in Sebring, Fla. Once he began to play Pickle Ball, which has a huge following in the Sunshine State among other places across the country, he was immediately taken in.
“I never played a racquet sport until I picked up the game six years ago,” Mr. Maynard, a 1955 East Providence High School grad, said.
In high school, he was a hockey player. His father was a well-known athlete, teacher and coach both in city and in the state. Donat Maynard taught at EPHS, coached baseball and football for the Townies and was a coach for the Pawtucket Slaters, a minor league baseball team that called McCoy Stadium home long before the current Pawtucket Red Sox.
“There were four of us at Tanglewood who wanted to get it going,” Mr. Maynard continued. “We marked out the court on a cement area. We eventually asked the owner if he could build us a couple of courts. He said, ‘I’ll build you four.'”
That’s all it took for Mr. Maynard and his fellow Pickle Ball enthusiasts at Tanglewood to get going. Upwards of 160 residents, many of them “snowbirds” from the northern United States and Canada, were playing the game.
“When you’re down in Florida you either play golf or tennis or fish. I didn’t do any of those things. I did play softball, but I was getting older and was looking for something else. Then along came Pickle Ball and I was hooked,” Mr. Maynard added.
A core group of about 20 full-time residents play year-round. Soon after he took up Pickle Ball, Mr. Maynard was competing in local, state and national tournaments. He excelled playing the doubles version of the game with partners Steve Arlen (men’s) and Gail Brown (mixed). Mr. Maynard and Ms. Brown recently won the gold medal at the U.S. Senior Olympics held in Cleveland in July.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have great partners. Gail is a terrific athlete. And Steve is great as well,” Mr. Maynard. He and Mr. Arlen, playing as partners for just the second time competitively, took home the bronze medal at the Senior Olympics in men’s doubles.
Former U.S. Representative from Washington state Joel Pritchard and a group of friends are credited with creating Pickle Ball in 1965. Wanting to play badminton, but missing a shuttlecock, they quickly changed course, manufacturing paddles out of spare pieces of wood, lowering the net and using a whiffle ball. The name “Pickle Ball” is credited to Mr. Pritchard’s wife, Joan, who said the game reminded her of the “Pickle Boat” in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
Regardless of where the name came from, the game grew in popularity in the northwest then spread to Washington, D.C. when Mr. Pritchard was elected to the House in 1970. It later earned a devoted following among mostly the senior set in places like Florida.
“It’s fun. It can be competitive. You can go out with some people and have a good time, just hit the ball and run around, or you can take it serious. It’s a nice sport,” Mr. Maynard said.
Their children (five in number) and especially their growing grandchildren (seven) lured the Maynards back to Rhode Island to stay. Now home, Mr. Maynard is seeking to spark interest in the sport he grew to love down south. Beginner racquets cost as little as $15. A portable net cost about $125. He’s looking for a local facility that is willing to allow him and maybe a new group of “Pickle Ballers” to tape down lines on a hard surface to play on a weekly basis.
“It’s a great way to stay in shape. It keeps you healthy,” Mr. Maynard said. “It’s not expensive. It’s not that difficult to learn, to pick up. It’s for all ages, really. It’s just a great sport.”
Those who may be interested in playing or helping Mr. Maynard attempt to get a Pickle Ball program off the ground can email him at [email protected] For more information on the sport, visit pickleball.com.