Pickleball is the big thing for seniors at the Mel Ott Recreation Center!

So what in the world is pickleball?

Pickleball is a racket sport that combines the elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. Two or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball over a net. It’s a mixed-sex game with, separate singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

Amie Hebert, Director of Recreation, who got pickleball started at Mel Ott Park, 2301 Belle Chasse Highway in Gretna is more than excited about the success of the program.  “Pickleball meets the needs of seniors in the community. It is a wonderful sport for those with limited mobility. We had a man here who was playing at 90. It doesn’t take a whole lot of money to play. People can take beginners, intermediate or advanced classes and also participate in Open Play at those different levels at very affordable prices,” she said.                                                  

In 2017, Pappy and Bobbie Mire had been playing pickleball for a year or two at Jefferson playground. “We wanted to play on the Westbank and we hoped others would want to join. We talked to Amie who got approval from the mayor (Mayor Belinda Constant) to host pickleball at the Mel Ott Center. Amie started us off with nets and balls and it really took off.  

“We have people from all over the New Orleans area in the Mel Ott program. Sometimes we have as many as 50, but the average on a Wednesday is about 40. We have a very nice group of people, all playing at different levels of play.                                     

“It’s advised that you take lessons to learn the correct way to play the game, but the regular, experienced players at Mel Ott tend to help the new people to learn.

“We have had three fun tournaments, where we dressed up in holiday garb for Halloween, Christmas and Mardi Gras. Everyone played 3 games, never playing with the same partner twice. Scores would be added and the highest scorers won prizes. The fun trophies were, for example, a pickle ball atop a jar of pickles, all in fun.                         

“For Mardi Gras, the tournament winner got a king cake shaped like the No. 1 to take home, as did second place a No. 2 and third, a No. 3, all from Bae’s Bakery, Gretna’s newest custom cake shop at 731 Lafayette St.

“A lot of the people are experienced tennis players, but some have no training at all. The ages of players range from under 50 to 86, with most from 60 and up. Pickleball creates a social group as well. On Wednesdays dozens of us go to lunch together after class,” Bobbie Mire said.

Classes at Mel Ott Recreation Center are taught by Patricia Barney, a certified pickleball and tennis instructor who has taught over a hundred players at the rec center. She is the Ambassador for Slidell with USAPA and a clinician in training with PPR. She also works with the MACS organization for disabled vets and with the Boys & Girls Club in Slidell.

“I absolutely love the classes at Mel Ott where I have taught well over 100 students. I like to be a part of the help and support. I’ve been teaching pickleball for three years at two other locations, since August 2021 here. I offer private or group or workshops upon request and also teach tennis,” Barney said.

“But, first off, pickleball is for everyone, young, old, disabled or ambulatory. It’s for everyone. Pickleball offers the three essentials for life – fun, friends and fitness! And after you are done, you go and get food. Lunch after Open Play is very common. Most retirees find that pickleball gives them a renewed social life after retirement!” she said.     

As far as Diane Lefevre is concerned, truer words were never spoken! “I picked up pickleball in 2021 after retiring. If I could do it five days a week, I would. These senior citizens that I have met inspire me. I’m 63 and hope to be doing this in 20 years. Its wonderful meeting new people and this gets me out of the house. I encourage all to come out and try it. You will get hooked. I probably could have used a class or two, but with so many willing helpers around, I’ve done well,” Lefevre said.

Another player came off the court after her game. She was sweating profusely, juggling a huge bottle of water in one hand, a paddle and a ball in the other. She was smiling from ear to ear. Laura Sanchez said, “It’s my first day and I love it. I don’t want to go home. I had my first beginner’s lesson this morning and I’m playing already, with a borrowed paddle.”

There was excitement in the air as players enjoyed the many courts that the gym has to offer. Pickleball lessons are taught in eight week sessions with the next session beginning about the middle of June. Registration will open for that session on May 15. Cost is $50 for Gretna residents and $70 for non-residents for 1 hour classes, I day a week for 8 weeks.

Open Play is available on Mondays and Tuesdays from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.; Tuesday evenings from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.; and on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. until noon. The first Open Play is free and the rec center supplies the equipment for the session. Then, if you want to join, buy a push card for $10 which allows for 10 sessions, your choice when and how often. In a nutshell, playing pickleball costs “a dollar a day,” a bargain to be sure!

Another program that the rec center hosts is the Jamaican Dance Club Line dancing/Couple dancing Program offered on Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m. The line dancing class is always first and there is a $5 per person per session fee. 

For details on the senior programs, call 504.363.1597.