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The City Journals

Seniors serious about pickleball at center

Dec 01, 2016 03:17PM ● By Travis Barton

Win Hardy and Mary Lou Damjanovich prepare to return a serve at the Midvale Senior Center on Wednesday, Oct. 26. Pickleball players at the center play for a couple hours Monday through Friday. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Every weekday you can find a community within a community at the Midvale Senior Center: pickleball enthusiasts. 

“If [the center] was open on the weekends we’d be here too,” said Mary Lou Damjanovich, a retired schoolteacher. 

Monday through Friday, an average of eight to 10 people converge on the multi-purpose room of the Midvale Senior Center to play pickleball for a few hours. 

“It’s an absolutely wonderful activity for anybody from—I say—six to whatever. Age does not affect your ability to win and have fun,” Damjanovich said. 

Pickleball is a mixture of tennis and badminton played with wooden paddles and a perforated Whiffle ball. The sport has been a recent addition to the center’s calendar. 

Damjanovich discovered the game last year in Draper when she heard people whacking a Whiffle ball during one of her Zumba classes. After suggesting it at the Midvale Senior Center, a sign-up sheet quickly filled up and equipment was provided. 

“I never thought pickleball would be as big of a hit as it is,” said Ken Donarski, center manager. “I would wager that if we had pickleball open 24/7, we’d have people playing 24/7.”  

Win Hardy, who worked for Utah Power before retiring, said he came to watch one night in May and just had to pick up a paddle. 

“This is the funnest game I’ve found in a long time,” Hardy said. The group’s enjoyment has even taken a few to watch or participate in tournaments in Brigham City and St. George. 

Players highlighted the fun of an athletic endeavor and the social interactions as the reasons they enjoy playing so much. The sport has created a community of friends committed to playing. Players often schedule their chores or doctor’s appointments around the center’s allotted pickleball time.

“This game has really brought us together, it’s like our little family,” Damjanovich said. 

Physical improvements have come not only in their abilities, Damjanovich said, but also with their health. 

“[Pickleball] gives you that adrenaline rush, it gives you those endorphins that you just feel great doing it,” Damjanovich said. “And you know you’re helping your body.”

Hardy, who has Parkinson’s disease, said the sport helps with his hand eye coordination and keeping his feet moving and cardio exercise is almost benefit enough for Damjanovich. Combining pickleball and Zumba, she generally records more than 13,000 steps a day. 

Damjanovich has played an instrumental role in bringing the popular sport inside the senior center. She recruited various schoolteacher friends like Francis Pendley. 

“She’s the ambassador that recruited us all and taught us,” Pendley said. 

Added fellow participant Roy Anthony, “This wouldn’t be what it is without Mary.”

For a sport invented in 1965 in Washington state, the game has experienced an increased popularity over the last couple years with pickleball specific courts being constructed in Cottonwood Heights, South Salt Lake and Murray to name a few. 

Hardy said he thinks an increased number of young people playing the game has led to spiked interest with pickleball being played in schools. Hardy told the story of seeing two teenagers playing against two 65 year olds at a tournament. 

“Utah’s been slow to pick up on it, but we’re gaining,” Hardy said. 

The multi-purpose room doesn’t allow for a full-size court, it’s two feet too short. Members have played on a concrete space across the street from the center, where they painted lines, but proved to be too costly on the participants’ shoes. 

Midvale has set aside $30,000 to build pickleball courts and are currently searching for locations to build it. 

For Damjanovich, who appeared before the city council to express her desire for pickleball courts, a court next to the senior center would be in constant use. 

“We are most appreciative that the city has heard us say we’d like a pickleball court,” Damjanovich said. “If they need help digging grass out of there, we’ll help. I’m serious, we want it.”