Pickleball just of many activities on CAL’s Active Aging Week itinerary

WORTHINGTON -- At least 30 seniors could be found playing one of Worthington's hottest sports, pickleball, in Centennial Park on Tuesday, an event that was part of the Center for Active Living's (CAL) annual Active Aging Week activities.

Margaret Vosburgh takes aim at an incoming ball during a game of pickleball in centennial park Tuesday. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON -- At least 30 seniors could be found playing one of Worthington’s hottest sports, pickleball, in Centennial Park on Tuesday, an event that was part of the Center for Active Living’s (CAL) annual Active Aging Week activities.

Pickleball is, in essence, a combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis. The game is played with teams of two, with a solid paddle and a plastic ball very similar to a wiffle ball. The pickleball court is a smaller version of a tennis court, with a slightly different layout.

Pickleball enthusiasts in Worthington started to expand the reach of the sport around four years ago. Since then, it has taken off, quickly becoming one of the most played sports in the city. It became so popular that last year, the city tore down four tennis courts in Centennial Park and transformed them into brand new, dedicated pickleball courts.


“I think the city is treating us seniors well,” said local pickleball enthusiast Ruth Sieve. “I’ve been playing for five years, and it was so great to hear they made outdoor pickleball courts.”

Tuesday’s round-robin tourney had an air of friendly competition. Although every player was trying their best to win volleys, there were no winners or losers, no grand champion.

Participants played eight-minute rounds, taking short breaks afterward to chat over donuts and hot coffee. The crew of players pride themselves on being a welcoming and inclusive group, even urging an onlooker to try out a few games of pickleball action.

Many of the players would be playing on Tuesday even if there was no special event. Residents of Worthington and nearby towns play pickleball on a daily basis at the CAL’s indoor courts, with some players starting as early as 6 a.m.


Chris Schimbeno, an 87 year-old Worthington native, has been playing pickleball for four years. She said she doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“I’m fortunate that I’m still active and able to play -- that I’m not in a wheelchair by now,” Schimbeno said with a big grin. “That’s why I like to play as much as I can.”

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by former Washington State Rep. Joel Pritchard, when he and two of his friends wanted to play badminton but couldn’t find a shuttle. They decided to play with a wiffle ball instead, and after a few modifications to the court and net, a new sport was born.

What started out as a joke turned into a major recreational sport. Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News called pickleball the “fastest growing sport in America” in 2014. The number of places to play has more than doubled since 2010, according to the USA Pickleball Association.


Vicki Place, a registered nurse at Sterling Drug in Worthington, attended the event not to step on the court, but to encourage seniors to get flu shots.

“Our age group, a lot of us think we’re healthy and don’t need to take it,” Place said. “But we’re getting older, so when we get the flu -- pneumonia -- it hits much harder than when you’re younger. We’re around grandkids and children; we wanna be healthy for them.”

The pickleball round-robin was just one of many events set for CAL’s Active Aging Week. On Monday, the CAL hosted chair yoga and games of bridge. After the pickleball games, the CAL hosted a senior dining session, followed by “Bone Builders,” a wellness program that helps people affected by osteoporosis.

According to Mary Luke, managing director of the CAL, the week is a celebration that showcases the capabilities of active adults age 55 and older, and brings people together.

“All of our members at the CAL are active, contributing members in the Worthington community,” Luke said. “It’s great to see they’re keeping their minds and bodies engaged.”

Today, Anita Leach will host an informational “walk and talk” at 8:40 a.m. at the Worthington Area YMCA. On Thursday, the CAL will host a mahjong event at 1 p.m. This Friday, the CAL will host a bike ride and brunch at 10 a.m., and the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services will offer a free estate and will planning clinic at 10 a.m.

“There are so many choices to take part in,” Luke said. “I hope that we hit on a lot of interest areas.”

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