Move over cornhole, there’s another funny-sounding recreational activity growing in popularity in Florida.
But unlike cornhole, this sport isn’t played with a beer in hand.
Residents around Southwest Florida are crowding courts to play pickleball, which is sort of like tennis on a badminton-sized court.
Area government park departments have started designating courts and hours for the fast-paced, tennis-like game that already has become an event at the Senior Games.
“We think if this sport was named something different, it would be in the Olympics,” said Carol Taylor of Punta Gorda.
Joan Gillis, who is in charge of pickleball at Holiday Park in North Port, has watched interest in the sport increase in just the last year or two.
“Last year, it really blossomed,” Gillis said.
At the height of snowbird season, there will be about 30 pickleballers playing on the three courts at Holiday Park.
“It’s such a wonderful sport for seniors,” Gillis said.
Frances Gammie, who calls herself “the ambassador,” introduced 135 new pickleball players to the sport at South County Regional Park in Punta Gorda last snowbird season. So far this year, already 43 new players have seen the ambassador.
“Lots of people have lost weight playing,” Gammie said.
Mike and Pat Duch spend six months a year in North Fort Myers and the other six in Washington state. The Duches played pickleball four days a week last season before returning to Washington. Mike saw his doctor, who was amazed at his improved health.
“He said, ‘Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,’” Mike said. “I think it’s pickleball.”
Carol Taylor of Punta Gorda has been playing for three years.
“I play tennis too, but this is great exercise,” she said. “It’s so much faster than tennis, and I do like the social aspect.”
Pickleballers can play indoors at South County Regional Park during certain times and days, or at Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda.
“It’s really lots of fun,” Gillis said. “I hope more parks pick it up.”
Lazy River Village in North Port may do just that.
Residents there will be voting Jan. 17, 2013, at their annual meeting to consider converting one tennis court into three pickleball courts, and building a new tennis court, said Justine Mackie, community association manager at Lazy River.
Those living in the Englewood area can start playing at the Tringali Recreation Center in January, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturdays.
If the popularity continues locally, Southwest Florida may rival The Villages in Central Florida, which has more than 100 pickleball courts.
“I encourage people to come out,” Gammie said.
For more information about pickleball, go to www.usapa.org or