NEWS

Let’s dink! Pickleball fundraiser is more than halfway there

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Google “pickleball” and these headlines come up:

“Move Over … Everything? Here Comes Major League Pickleball” from the New York Times.

“Why pickleball is the hottest up-and-coming sport right now” from ESPN.

“LeBron James Could Take Pickleball—Yes, Pickleball—to the Next Level” from Time.

For local enthusiasts of the sport, the headline is that their fund drive to convert the two decaying tennis courts at the south end of Greencastle’s Jerome R. King Playground into four pickleball courts is beyond the halfway point.

Fund drive announced:Popular pickleball might be coming to King Playground

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They’ve received $12,000 since the fundraiser started mid-summer and want to wrap up the fund drive and reach their $20,000 goal by the end of the year. Combined with a $20,000 matching gift from an anonymous donor, the achievement will allow ground-breaking in May and the courts should be ready for play in mid- to late June.

Dwight Morgan, 86, left, and Austin Simmons and Michael Pugliano, both 17, talk about their pickleball paddles on the tennis courts at Antrim Township Community Park. Pickleball can be played on the bigger courts, but a fund drive is underway to convert two tennis courts into four courts just for pickleball at Jerome R. King Playground in Greencastle.

They hope to inaugurate the new courts with a tournament, according to Fred Heefner, who along with Dave Bonebrake is spearheading the fundraiser. They’re also thinking about organizing a club for the game that combines elements of tennis, ping-pong and badminton.

Heefner and his wife, Tammy, are among the players who frequent Antrim Township Community Park, where the tennis courts are lined for pickleball play, too.

That’s not ideal, since tennis courts are twice the size of the area needed for pickleball and players spend too much time chasing the ball.

One of the attractions of fast-paced pickleball is a compact playing area, making it suitable for all ages, including people like 86-year-old Dwight Morgan.

Tammy Heefner was at the Antrim courts with friends not long ago when Morgan approached and asked, “Does anyone have time to dink with me?”

Dinking is like volleying, with players hitting the ball back and forth over the net.

Morgan is a retired pastor, who served Fellowship of Bible Churches around the Hagerstown area, as well as missionary slots in German and Ireland with his wife of 65 years, Lynda. They live on East Weaver Road, not far from the park.

Dwight Morgan, 86, plays pickleball at Antrim Township Community Park.

He picked up a pickleball paddle at 82, playing with a friend at the Hagerstown YMCA. He plays once or twice a week on the courts at the Chambersburg Aquatic Center. If it’s below 45 degrees or rainy, players move inside the Chambersburg YMCA.

Some of the other people who play in Chambersburg are from Greencastle, and Morgan thinks they will be happy to use the new courts Jerome R. King Playground.

The closer the better … it’s much more convenient for me to play in Greencastle,” Morgan said.

There is a nucleus of 10 to 12 people who play regularly at Antrim Township Community Park, according to the Heefners.

“We went out a couple weeks ago and both tennis courts were filled with pickleball players. That’s never happened before,” Tammy Heefner said.

There also are courts in New Franklin, Pa., and Leitersburg, Md., according to Morgan, who said, “It’s growing by leaps and bounds. It’s a lifetime sport — anybody can play if they want to get out and move around.”

In addition to physical fitness, Morgan loves the camaraderie among pickleball players he’s found locally and in other states while traveling.

“Nobody ever said, ‘You’re too old,’” he joked.

He found easy camaraderie on the court during a recent visit with a reporter to Antrim Township Community Park, where they dinked with Greencastle-Antrim High School seniors Austin Simmons and Michael Pugliano.

It didn’t take Pugliano long to realize he and his father, Tony, played a friendly game with Morgan and another man a few months ago.

Austin Simmons, left, and Michael Pugliano, both 17-year-old Greencastle-Antrim High School seniors, play pickleball at Antrim Township Community Park.

Simmons’ father, Jimmie, has played pickleball for about three years, the teen has been playing for a month or two, and now he’s hooked.

“It’s addicting,” Simmons said, adding he played four or five days last week for two hours at a time.

The two 17-year-olds and Morgan also chatted about their paddles and how much they cost.

Pickleball is a pretty inexpensive sport, and a player can get started with paddles and balls — light and similar to wiffle balls — for about $80, Tammy Heefner said.

“Anyone interested in learning the game can also reach out to any of us to find out when we will be there and we’ll gladly show them the basics of the games,” Fred Heefner said, adding they’ve also learned a lot by watching YouTube videos.

Jerome R. King Playground is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, so donations are tax-deductible.

Donations, with “pickleball” in the memo line can be mailed to P.O. Box 2, 240 N. Carlisle St., Greencastle, Pa. 17225.

For more information, call Heefner at 223-205-7965, Bonebrake at 240-675-8827 or Lon Barkdoll, playground board president, at 717-597-8526.

Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at shardy@gannett.com