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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Offbeat Sunday: 'Pickleball'? Why didn't they just call it 'flossmonkey'?

Enthusiasts flock to the pickleball courts at Mount Ogden Park, while the tennis courts sit empty, in this Aug 14, 2014, photo.

OGDEN — Just when things were finally beginning to look up for our beloved Junction City.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard the news that the prestigious 2015 Pickleball Tournament of Champions is leaving Ogden. We pause momentarily for the gasps and cries of disbelief to subside …

John Gullo, a local philanthropist and pickleball enthusiast, has been instrumental in bringing the sport to Ogden. Two years ago he ponied up $48,000 in prize money to bring the world’s best pickleball players to Ogden for a tournament. Now in its third year, the event was scheduled for Sept. 9-12 in Ogden, but only recently — and abruptly — was moved to Brigham City after Gullo had a falling out with Ogden city officials.

Apparently, one town’s loss is another’s gain.

Pickleball is a court sport that has been described as a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong. Players use small paddles to hit a wiffle ball back and forth over a three-foot-high net in what Gullo calls “the most social game ever invented.” But only because drinking isn’t really a game.

Now, lest you think I’m about to disparage the sport, let me say that while I’ve not had the pleasure of actually trying the game, I have watched it. And it certainly does look like a jolly good time. 

But if there’s one bone I have to pick with pickleball, it’s that the game was somehow saddled with the world’s worst name. I mean, it doesn’t involve a pickle, and it just barely involves a ball. And by that last part, I mean it employs the use of a wiffle ball — which, technically, is not even a member of the ball family. Honestly, no self-respecting athlete in any serious sport would consider using such a frivolous, child’s toy in competition. 

Beyond that, creators pretty much could have put together any other two nouns and come up with a better name for the game: Barleyskunk. Oysterfence. Flossmonkey. Cheesecloud. Phlemspoon. 

See what I mean? 

Or, better yet, they could have at least chosen a name that more aptly describes the game. Like paddlebash. Or stand-n-whack. 

Nevertheless, pickleball is becoming quite popular here in Northern Utah. Just how popular? Consider a recent Friday morning at Mount Ogden Park, which offers courts for both pickleball and the more established sport of tennis. Whereas the eight pickleball courts were packed with enthusiasts lined up waiting to play, the six tennis courts hosted one lone doubles tennis match. 

That match featured Linda Foster, of West Haven, and Sylvia Savage, Jan Mitchell and Pam Olsen, all of Ogden. The four women — sometimes joined by a few other friends — play tennis every Friday morning at Mount Ogden Park. It’s a ritual they’ve carried on for the last 25 years or so.

Unlike skiers and snowboarders, the women say tennis players and pickleballers get along just fine. Indeed, all of these tennis players — with the exception of Savage — also play pickleball.

“Jan and I were playing tennis here one day about four years ago, and John Gullo was over there on one of the pickleball courts,” Foster recalls. “He goes, ‘You wanna try pickleball?’ And we said, ‘What the heck.’ ”

They admit they were drawn to the sport almost instantly, although they point out that with a smaller racket and a different swing, playing pickleball can totally mess up your tennis game.

“It killed my tennis at the time,” Foster says. “I’ve tried to play pickleball, then went out and played tennis, and I couldn’t do it. So my advice would be don’t try to play both, one after the other, in the same day. But you’re probably OK if there’s a little time between the two sports.”

Olsen said she’d hate to have to choose between the two.

“I don’t have a preference on which one I play,” she said. “I love them both.”

All four women say they suspect pickleball has helped cause the demise of tennis in the area. Whereas, a few years ago, it was difficult to find an open tennis court, they pretty much have their choice of courts these days. They also say tennis involves a lot more running, so as they get older all figure they’ll transition to pickleball. In fact, Savage says most hardcore tennis players do think pickleball is sort of like a retirement plan for tennis players.

“Most tennis players think pickleball is for older people,” she said.

Savage also admits that she and her husband will probably eventually take up the sport, but they just haven’t gotten around to playing it yet.

“In the summer if we’re not playing tennis, my husband likes to golf,” Savage said. “So any spare time we could be playing pickleball is usually taken up by golf.”

None of the women is upset that Gullo is moving the Pickleball Tournament of Champions up to Brigham City.

“While they’re all gone up there to play the tournament, the courts down here will be free for us to play on,” Mitchell said.

And as tempted as I may be to try pickleball, I’ll holding out for a better name.


Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at 

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